Bourdieu, the takeable photo & the pajarero ethos






Creative Commons Licence



Created date

August 1, 2019


Critical Commentary

This photo, taken with my cell-phone camera through a spyglass, might be a good example of what Bourdieu called a "takeable photograph," that is a photogaph considered adequate by a certain social group because it contains a finite and defined range of subjects, genres and compositions from "the theoretical infinity of technically possible photographs”.

According to this thesis, photography, in its practice and its contents, can and should provide material for sociology. It serves to study the meanings, motivations and values ​​associated with the group that produces them. The community decides what is worthy of being registered, preserved, displayed and admired. And the rules that define how, when and where birds should be photographed are inseparable from the implicit values ​​of the ethos and social order of birders. Values are largely scientific, factual, sporting, recreational and emotional, among others.

When incorporated to a citizen science platform, like eBird or Naturalista, observations such as this become part of a process, they are being instantiated in contexts different to those that produced them: the field, texts written in notebooks, photographs, lists, blogs, social networks, platforms for amateurs, databases, Excel sheets, algorithms and, eventually, thesis and scientific articles. Even conservation initiatives or birdwatching businesses. In each instance through which an observation goes through, new subjectivities and, therefore, new meanings come into play.

Of course, I talk about "birders" as a whole group, but the communities themselves are extremely diverse, with amateurs, novices, professional researchers, environmentalists, government officials, teachers, school groups, retired people and tourists, to name just a few types. Given this scenario, it is worth asking if you can really talk about social order in such diverse contexts. A better question seems to be: What kind of social order are all these different people constituting?

I posit that a potential way of answering this question is precisely to appeal to the traceability of an observation, beyond the digital dimension and beyond photography. I seek to reconstruct, as far as possible, the origin of an observations’ components (field trips, organizations, experiences), the processes that have been applied in each context (training, observation and recording equipment, digitalization, coding, classification, labeling), as well as its distribution and location in different instances (its presence, harvest and use in different digital repositories). This allows me to appreciate the different meanings that the same observation can acquire in the different phases of the process, and provides me with a better idea of ​​the ethos involved in this production of scientific knowledge.


Field trip to Tlahuac