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Culture, Imagination and Practice Research Group Seminar: Matei Candea (Durham)

Starts: 4 May 2011

Wednesday 4th May, 3-5 pm  in Room 1.65 (CPLAN, Glamorgan Building)

Culture, Imagination & Practice (CIP) Research Group present

Speaker: Matei Candea (Durham University)

Human and non-human achievements in animal behaviour research, or, what makes a good bird?

This paper examines some difficulties surrounding the representation of human and non-human achievements in animal behaviour research. Over the past four decades, an extensive literature has accumulated on the topic of scientific achievement, focusing in the main on the psychological and sociological underpinnings for the differential success of individual scientists. By contrast, in the context examined here – a research station in which scientists study the cognitive abilities of corvids – the achievements of the study animals are as much in focus as those of the human scientists who work with them. Researchers speak with pride about the cleverness of their birds, their inquisitiveness and willingness to participate in experiments; in practice, the lab's success and visibility derive in great part from the scientists' ability to evidence the birds' abilities to perform certain tasks. This networking of human and non-human achievements at first glance supports the conclusions of a strand of science studies, which has recast the achievement of experimental outcomes as a subject-object interaction in which merit and success is symmetrically distributed. However, such arguments background one important point: representing human and non-human achievements symmetrically collapses the very distinctions which make them achievements in the first place. This paper unpicks the careful ways in which researchers describe, distinguish and hierarchise their own achievements (and failures) and those of their research subjects, and argues that taking such representational concerns on their own terms is crucial for an understanding of the lab's networked achievements.


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Open To: Staff and Students