Campus Fryslân researchers study knowledge production at BirdEyes

Photo by David Peskens from a 2018 article by Rob Buiter in National Geographic. A Black-tailed Godwit chick in the hands of fieldwork coordinator Jos Hooijmeijer.

Selen Eren & Anne Beaulieu

What do researchers care about when they are in the field, taking hold of birds with their hands? What does it mean if they save a flooded nest of the endangered bird they study? What if this affects the course of events they study? And to what extent does data collection that is crucial for robust scientific knowledge on population survival also disturb endangered individuals?

These dilemmas illustrate how researchers from BirdEyes deal with the multiple commitments they have. A recent article by Selen Eren and Anne Beaulieu investigates how researchers balance the different ways they care about what they do, alternating between doing research, preserving endangered species, and aligning their data to knowledge infrastructures. The publication is entitled Between a bird-in-the-hand and species data in the bank: Intermittent care in conservation science and published in the journal Theory, Culture & Society.

The focus of this publication is the collection of data by BirdEyes’ Godwit researchers in the Frisian countryside. The researcher-bird engagements observed during the ecologists’ fieldwork are analyzed as care relations. The authors found that knowledge about survival and biodiversity loss emerges thanks to the intermittent character of care, oscillating between its different types (affection, labor, ethical obligation) and matters (individual birds, future populations, knowledge infrastructures). The analysis also shows that uninterrupted affection, labor, or ethical obligation for one matter of care, to the exclusion of the other two, gives rise to ethical and epistemic problems. A balance of care work between these different types and matters of care is necessary, and can be further facilitated by reconfiguring knowledge infrastructures.

This publication is the fruit of collaboration between Campus Fryslan and BirdEyes. More importantly, it was made possible thanks to the humility and open-mindedness of the Godwit researchers, who allowed a critical gaze during and for their fieldwork. Other ongoing projects focus on the concept of ‘flyway’ as a boundary object that enables transdisciplinary collaborations without having a single fixed definition, on unentangling tensions between university researchers and societal knowledge actors in Friesland over what socially relevant knowledge is, on the development of a hackathon using bird tracking data, and on the creation of tools to support discussions of data equity in migratory bird ecology.

The partnership between the Faculty and the new Science and Creativity Centre for Global Ecological Change at the University of Groningen is the context for the Ph.D. project of Selen Eren from the Knowledge Infrastructures Department. Eren focuses on the scientific knowledge production process of a team of ecologists from BirdEyes. This collaboration brings together social and natural scientists to contribute to the production of scientific knowledge on biodiversity loss needed to build multispecies liveable futures in Friesland.

Pictures of birds-in-the-hand commonly feature on researchers’ social media, and provoke all sorts of questions on the nature of researcher-bird relationships.

Centre for global ecological change at the University of Groningen

Birdeyes is a science and creative centre that views the world - almost literally - through the eyes of birds. More and more birds are flying around with tiny transmitters, loggers and other high technology on their backs and legs. This generates an unimaginable amount of information. By cleverly combining such data with other sources of information, and by using new ways to tell stories and share the insights with, BirdEyes strives to open up a new knowledge network. The centre aims to be an innovative part of the University of Groningen and is linked to the Rudolph Agricola School for Sustainable Development. BirdEyes, with empirical and inspirational roots in the farthest corners of the world.

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