Theory and Society

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 351–368 | Cite as

Bird in hand: How experience makes nature

  • Hillary Angelo


It is almost a truism that nature is social, but by what means is nature made social at the level of the interactional encounter? While the transformation of society/nature relationships is often approached through the problematic of distance, and at the scale of macro-historical transformation, this article uses a conflict between American birdwatchers and ornithologists over scientific “collecting” (literally, the killing of birds) to examine the processes through which individuals come to know nature, and come to know it so differently. With John Dewey’s (1958 [1925]) “experience” as the unit of analysis, I trace changes in each group’s experience with birds over the past century; the phenomenology of the resulting encounters; and the understanding that emerges from each in order to understand (1) how, empirically, these two very different loves of birds are formed, and (2) knowledge of nature as an affective sensibility shaped by experiences of closeness.


Experience Society-nature relationships Nature knowledge John Dewey Birdwatching Ornithology Collecting 



I am grateful to Craig Calhoun, Colin Jerolmack, Harvey Molotch, the NYLON research network, and the Editors and reviewers of Theory and Society for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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