At the center of Stefan Bargheer’s account of bird watching, field ornithology, and nature conservation in Britain and Germany stands the question of how values change over time and how individuals develop moral commitments.
Using life history data derived from written narratives and oral histories, Moral Entanglements follows the development of conservation from the point in time at which the greatest declines in bird life took place to the current efforts in large-scale biodiversity conservation and environmental policy within the European Union. While often depicted as the outcome of an environmental revolution that has taken place since the 1960s, Bargheer demonstrates to the contrary that the relevant practices and institutions that shape contemporary conservation have evolved gradually since the early nineteenth century. Moral Entanglements further shows that the practices and institutions in which bird conservation is entangled differ between the two countries. In Britain, birds derived their meaning in the context of the game of bird watching as a leisure activity. Here birds are now, as then, the most popular and best protected taxonomic group of wildlife due to their particularly suitable status as toys in a collecting game, turning nature into a playground. In Germany, by contrast, birds were initially part of the world of work. They were protected as useful economic tools, rendering services of ecological pest control in a system of agricultural production modeled after the factory shop floor. Based on this extensive analysis, Bargheer formulates a sociology of morality informed by a pragmatist theory of value.
“A revolutionary book. Bargheer uses a wonderfully interesting and meticulously analyzed pair of cases to recover and elaborate a Deweyan theory of morality and play. The brilliant insight of his theory is matched by the beguiling character of his empirical evidence, both the historical data of the earlier period and the interview data that brings the analysis into the present. At once easy to read and intellectually powerful, the book will transform sociological approaches to morality.”
– Andrew Abbott, University of Chicago
“Moral Entanglements is an impressive achievement – a feat of historical work, a dazzling parade of scholarly erudition, and an elegant piece of writing. Even if you know nothing about or have no interest in birds you will find this original and meticulous book to be strangely engrossing. Bargheer has left no stone unturned, pondered every side of every debate, and chiseled his writing to perfection. It is rare, indeed, to come across such a remarkably well-researched piece of scholarship.”
– Marion Fourcade, University of California, Berkeley