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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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"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.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.