Flight Ways

Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction was published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

Available from 2021 in French translation, published by Editions Wildproject, Marseille.

A leading figure in the emerging field of extinction studies, Thom van Dooren puts philosophy into conversation with the natural sciences and his own ethnographic encounters to vivify the cultural and ethical significance of modern-day extinctions. Unlike other meditations on the subject, Flight Ways incorporates the particularities of real animals and their worlds, drawing philosophers, natural scientists, and general readers into the experience of living among and losing biodiversity.

Each chapter of Flight Ways focuses on a different species or group of birds: North Pacific albatrosses, Indian vultures, an endangered colony of penguins in Australia, Hawaiian crows, and the iconic whooping cranes of North America. Written in eloquent and moving prose, the book takes stock of what is lost when a life form disappears from the world—the wide-ranging ramifications that ripple out to implicate a number of human and more-than-human others. Van Dooren intimately explores what life is like for those who must live on the edge of extinction, balanced between life and oblivion, taking care of their young and grieving their dead. He bolsters his studies with real-life accounts from scientists and local communities at the forefront of these developments. No longer abstract entities with Latin names, these species become fully realized characters enmeshed in complex and precarious ways of life, sparking our sense of curiosity, concern, and accountability toward others in a rapidly changing world.

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“I love this book. van Dooren’s thorough, detailed, and calmly passionate scholarship adds immensely to my understanding of caring, science and justice, and conditions for recuperation that take multispecies flourishing seriously. He is a leader in learning to learn without the tools of human exceptionalism, attuned to the nuances and specificities of situated worlds, including human worlds-in-relation with other critters.”

~ Donna Haraway, University of California, Santa Cruz (author of When Species Meet)

“In this wise and fascinating book, van Dooren takes us into the fleshy, biosocial, and ethical consequences of extinction. His lively stories of five bird species open worlds—both avian and human—of care, dedication, and the most ardent commitment. By developing a deeper understanding of species as intergenerational and interspecies achievements, van Dooren helps us rethink both loss and conservation. Flight Ways is a profoundly realized exploration of why extinction matters, and how we may respond.”

~ Deborah Bird Rose, University of New South Wales (author of Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction)

“Haunting, beautiful, and important: Flight Ways is extraordinary. This is ethnographic storytelling at its very best, and it carries the environmental humanities to new heights. You will never look at a bird in the same way again.”

~ Anna Tsing, University of California, Santa Cruz (author of Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection)

“This is an excellent book that deserves wide readership.”

~ Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, Boulder (editor of Ignoring Nature No More: The Case For Compassionate Conservation)

Flight Ways recovers a way of responding ethically to extinction. van Dooren’s scientifically-informed case studies of particular bird species facing extinction give the lie to the trope of “the last one” by framing stories of the “distinct unraveling of ways of life” that had evolved over millions of years and whose passings are unevenly experienced as tragedies. Informative, heartbreaking, and deeply inspiring, his book serves as a compelling model for how animal studies scholarship can move beyond false competitions of individuals and populations to engage with the real problems of sustaining life in multispecies communities.”

~ Susan McHugh, University of New England (author of Animal Stories: Narrating Across Species Lines)

“A magnificent, sensitive, and marvelously intelligent book that tells stories of extinction while reinspiring us with life and curiosity. Every page teaches us something about other forms and ways of life, makes us think differently or more deeply than we have been in the habit of thinking, and helps us to do so in company with the beings of other species. Van Dooren teaches us that to care passionately can be a weapon of resistance against the forces of destruction.”

~ Vinciane Despret, University of Liège (author of Quand le loup habitera avec l’agneau)

“Many studies in the more-than-human mode engender little more than the ‘So, what?’ question. This is not one of those. In encouraging us to linger with the trouble, it reminds us of the many values of ethnographic approaches. It gives us new tools to think about extinction and species with. And in more ways than one, it is an unexpectedly hopeful book”

~ Lesley Head, University of Melbourne (co-author of Ingrained: A Human Bio-geography of Wheat)

Flight Ways captivates with its moving prose, keen and surprising observations of avian life worlds, and haunting philosophical meditations. Curiosity is Van Dooren’s entrée, empathy his method, and ethology his guide.”

~ Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin-Madison (author of Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record)

Flight Ways is available in French translation: En plein vol: Vivre et mourir au seuil de l’extinction, Éditions Wildproject, Marseille (2021). Translated by Marin Schaffner.

French blurb: Mais qui sont ces oiseaux qui disparaissent ? Van Dooren explore intimement ce qu’est la vie pour ceux qui doivent vivre au bord de l’extinction, en équilibre entre la vie et l’oubli, en prenant soin de leurs petits et en pleurant leurs morts. Il étaye ses études par des témoignages de scientifiques et de communautés locales à la pointe de ces évolutions. Ces espèces, qui ne sont plus des entités abstraites aux noms latins, deviennent des personnages à part entière, imbriqués dans des modes de vie complexes et précaires, qui suscitent notre curiosité, notre inquiétude et notre sens des responsabilités envers les autres dans un monde en mutation rapide. Chaque chapitre d’En plein vol se concentre sur une espèce ou un groupe d’oiseaux différent : les albatros du Pacifique Nord, les vautours indiens, une colonie de pingouins en voie de disparition en Australie, les corbeaux hawaïens et les emblématiques grues blanches d’Amérique du Nord. Écrit dans une prose éloquente et émouvante, le livre fait le point sur ce qui est perdu lorsqu’une forme de vie disparaît du monde – les ramifications étendues qui se répercutent pour impliquer un certain nombre d’humains et d’autres plus qu’humains. Personnalité de premier plan dans le domaine émergent des études sur les extinctions, Thom van Dooren met la philosophie en conversation avec les sciences naturelles et ses rencontres ethnographiques pour vivifier la signification culturelle et éthique des extinctions modernes. Contrairement à d’autres méditations sur le sujet, En plein vol intègre les particularités des animaux réels et de leurs mondes, attirant les philosophes, les spécialistes des sciences naturelles et les lecteurs en général dans l’expérience de la vie au sein de la biodiversité et de sa perte.

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