The Dance of the Arabian Babbler

Birth of an Ethological Theory

2021
Author:

Vinciane Despret
Translated by jeffrey bussolini

The Dance of the Arabian Babbler

A groundbreaking reflection on the process by which one arrives at an ethological theory

Embedding herself in the field alongside ethologists in the Negev desert, Vinciane Despret reflects on scientists’ processes of constructing theories within the milieu of the animals they study. Despret analyzes theories posited by many well-known thinkers, including Amotz Zahavi, who devoted his life to the interpretation, companionship, and conservation of the Arabian babbler bird, and naturalists such as Charles Darwin.

How do humans study the complex worlds of animals without imposing their own societal and scientific gaze upon them? The biologist Amotz Zahavi stakes the controversial claim that Arabian babblers are said to raise themselves up each day to dance and tend to one another in the early morning sun. Such a claim will provoke the interest and intellectual curiosity of a young philosopher and psychologist recognizing that the best way for her to observe the practices of scientists at work is to join them on their terrain. Embedding herself in the field alongside ethologists in the Negev desert, Vinciane Despret deftly depicts and reflects on the process by which scientists construct their theories within the milieu of the animals they study. Along the way, and not without humor, Despret analyzes a variety of theories posited by many well-known thinkers, including Zahavi, who devoted his life to the interpretation, companionship, and conservation of the Arabian babbler bird, and naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Pierre Kropotkin.


The Dance of the Arabian Babbler

Vinciane Despret is a philosopher and psychologist who has published on the relation between the human and the animal. Her most recent books include What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? (Minnesota, 2016), Au Bonheur des Morts, and Habiter en Oiseau.



jeffrey bussolini is associate professor of sociology and anthropology at the City University of New York and codirector of the Center for Feline Studies. He is coeditor of The Philosophical Ethology of Vinciane Despret.
The Dance of the Arabian Babbler

Contents


Acknowledgments


Translator’s Introduction


jeffrey bussolini


Introduction


Part I. The Ethological Debates


1. The Theoretical Context: The Two Paradoxes of the Theory of Evolution


Altruism


Sexual Selection


2. Rituals Between Altruism and Reproductive Function


Part II. The Dance of the Babbler


3. The Arabian Babbler


4. Models and Methods: Outline of a Field Study


5. Narratives and Metaphors


6. Models and Fictions


Conclusions


Notes