The Dance of the Arabian Babbler: Birth of an Ethological Theory

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

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.