Bente Sundsvold: “Å tenkje som en fauel” – to think like a bird – taking uncertainty seriously

“Å tenkje som en fauel” – to think like a bird – taking uncertainty seriously

Bente Sundsvold

In the paper I will describe/address the analytical potentials of utilizing a videocamera as a tool for exploring the relationship and communication between man and bird, based on my PhD thesis “den nordlandske fuglepleie” and  film “to think like a bird” (2015).

Analytically I started out with a methodological perspective “enskillment of vision” (Grasseni 2007, 2009), inspired by Ingold’s aim to see man in its environment, thus taking both social and biotic and abiotic stuff in account (Ingold 2000, 2011, Ingold and Palsson 2013, Ingold 1988) . While Grasseni wanted to learn to see like a cow breeder by use of her videocamera, she was less curios about the cows’ part in the visual enskillment. This became my focus. How can the camera provide a better take on what “my cows” are up to, the eider ducks?  Eider down harvesting rests upon taking care of a bird that is never fully tamed, controlled or domesticated.  The bird alternates between a wild and a domesticated state of mind, based on seasonal variations and reproductive cycles. Only during the brooding period, humans have something to offer the bird; protection against predators is the far most important offer. In “den nordlandske fuglepleie” the bird harvesters have improved the brooding conditions, by building nests and shelters for the birds. Thus, there is almost no way the eider down harvesters can control the birds. The possibilities of control regard the brooding fields, keeping them free of predators and disturbances.  Thus, the eider down harvesters depend on trying to understand what the birds are up to in order to allure them to their land. An incredible amount of time and efforts deals with trying to understand the bird’s behaviors, trying to communicate with a species with whom they neither share language nor perceptive capacities.

By use of the camera (moving images and sound) the field of observing practice is extended. In the PhD thesis, I utilized performative- dramaturgical and ritual aspects of behavior. Not only the relation between man and bird is explored, but also how the scenes of these encounters, the environment, landscape features as well as interaction with other species, predators and helpers, add up to some kind of common understanding and trust (tillit). Making predictability, but never certainty. (Latour, Law, Lien, Goffman, Butler, Fijn) (litt mer om sikkerhet?)

The article will be accompanied with footage (2003-2009) and film sequences from the film “to think like a bird” (Sundsvold 2016) . Maybe 5-7 min? Hva er rammen?


Grasseni, Cristina, ed. 2007. Skilled Visions. Between apprenticeship and standards. Vol. 6, EASA Series. Learning Fields: Berghahn Books.

Grasseni, Cristina. 2009. Developing Skill, developing vision.  Practices of locality at the foot of the Alps. Edited by Sharon R. Roseman, European Anthropology in Translation New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Ingold, Tim. 1988. What is an Animal?: Allen & Unwin Inc.

Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of environment.  Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London, New York: Routledge.

Ingold, Tim. 2011. Being Alive.  Essays on movement, knowledge and description: Routledge.

Ingold, Tim, and Gisli Palsson, eds. 2013. Biosocial Becomings.  Integrating Social and Biological Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.