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Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides (Critical Perspectives in the History of Environmental Design) Paperback – June 22, 2011


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Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides (Critical Perspectives in the History of Environmental Design) + In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders and Their Guides
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Product Details

  • Series: Critical Perspectives in the History of Environmental Design
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (June 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558498869
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558498860
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,614,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Clearly and engagingly written, Binocular Vision is a work of impressive scope and subtlety that will make an important contribution to the growing field of environmental cultural studies.

(Daniel J. Philippon, author of Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement)

This book forced me to take a more critical look at field guides and what their role can and should be. And that made it very worth reading.

(The Birder's Library)

Binocular Vision is a field guide to field guides that takes a novel perspective on how we think about and interact with the world around us.

(The Guardian)

Spencer Schaffner's Binocular Vision starts from the simple and important observation that field guides--like texts--'do cultural work.' Behind and beyond their stated purposes, field guides affirm assumptions and create expectations, and many of the conclusions the book offers will be an unsettling surprise to many of its birding readers.

(aba.org Blog)

From the Back Cover

From meadows to marshlands, seashores to suburbs, field guides help us identify many of the things we find outdoors: plants, insects, mammals, birds. In these texts, nature is typically represented, in both words and images, as ordered, clean, and untouched by human technology and development. This preoccupation with species identification, however, has produced an increasingly narrow view of nature, a "binocular vision," that separates the study of individual elements from a range of larger, interconnected environmental issues. In this book, Spencer Schaffner reconsiders this approach to nature study by focusing on how birds are presented in field guides.

Starting with popular books from the late nineteenth century and moving ultimately to the electronic guides of the current day, Binocular Vision contextualizes birdwatching field guides historically, culturally, and in terms of a wide range of important environmental issues. Schaffner questions the assumptions found in field guides to tease out their ideological workings. He argues that the sanitized world represented in these guides misleads readers by omitting industrial landscapes and so-called nuisance birds, leaving users of the guides disconnected from environmental degradation and its impact on bird populations.

By putting field guides into direct conversation with concerns about species conservation, environmental management, the human alteration of the environment, and the problem of toxic pollution, Binocular Vision is a field guide to field guides that takes a novel perspective on how we think about and interact with the world around us.


More About the Author

Spencer Schaffner writes about field guides and birdwatching. He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By kh on August 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading "Binocular Vision" and found it to be one of the more interesting books about birding I've yet encountered. It's not the typical feel-good story about birders and field guides, but a critical examination and set of questions about the topic.

The way the author weaves together stories about field guides and environmental activism, field guides and environmental pollution, and field guides and new technologies is really interesting. Although this book was obviously conceived and targeted at an academic audience more than at a general audience, it's nice that it can still reach a general audience.

If you don't have time to read the whole book, I'd recommend a couple of chapters in particular. First, one early chapter on field guides and highly altered landscapes is instructive in rethinking where to seek out birds, and second, there is a later chapter that critiques competitive birdwatching at hazardous waste/toxic sites. You don't usually think about birdwatching in places such as this--yet such places teem with birds.

There is a huge amount of thought-provoking stuff in this book that deals with the consequences of birdwatching and field guides, as it's a hobby that many of us enjoy but might not be all that thoughtful about--this book really makes you think about the hobby in a new way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. E. Wright on September 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I encourage every birder to read and to ponder this important book. You'll find yourself alternately fascinated and infuriated, and continually inspired to think through these issues yourself.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Gregg on July 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is sort of a social history written by analyzing the text and images of bird books produced from the mid-19th- to the early 21st century. I thought it was a terrific idea when I read about it. I just finished the book and I didn't think it was very good. First, because the author is an English professor, a lot of analysis is that jargony sort of textual analysis that might be somebody's cup of tea but definitely isn't mine. Like eating celery, it is a lot of chewing and not much content (just my opinion). As an example of how much this book is from and for a particular academic discipline, at one point the author argues the case, as if making a new discovery, that books can be quite informative about their historical and cultural contexts if interpreted as artifacts. I'll just observe that while this might be a new idea to English majors, it isn't news to anthropologists. The book also suffers from too much argumentation without exposition, with a lot of the author's statements taking on a bit of a "he said, she said" kind of vibe. I'd have preferred a denser description of each of the bird books upon which the author's arguments rest. This would have been helped by more illustrations beyond the few gray, fuzzy ones provided. The thing that balked me most often was the criticism of bird books for being taxonomic...they make people see the world in artificial taxonomic divisions. The orderliness of the taxonomy and of the books' graphics themselves means we overlook dissonances in the environment. This is rich territory, with lots that could be said about the origin, meaning, and value of certain ways of looking at the world developed since the end of the Middle Ages.Read more ›
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