Accepted Paper:

Bad birds, good birds: sharing space and establishing cultural order in popular garden practice  


Carsten Vorwig (LVR-Freilichtmuseum Kommern)
Dagmar Hänel (LVR-Institut for regional studies)

Paper short abstract:

Birdhouses are architectural materialisation of cultural orders. Placed in the sensitive border area surrounding the home, bird houses are multifunctional objects, they are connected to cultural practices and mental concepts of nature and culture and their special ethic connotations.

Paper long abstract:

Birdhouses are not only decorative architectural elements in gardens. They are materialisation of cultural orders in a sensitive border area: between inside and outside, culture and nature, home and outland, human and non-human.

Those little, mostly wooden objects are wide-spread in urban and rural backyards and balconies. The design differs, people offer modern bungalows, traditional framework houses or bright coloured boxes with pitched roof, sometimes also with a chimney, to tits, robins and sparrows. Their two functions, offering a nesting side or special food to birds, are both intending the protection of especially local birds, which become a symbol for healthy environment, "natural" and "regional" garden culture and the idea of co-spacing human and wild animals in urban settings. The birdhouses are expressions of lifestyle, ecology and special concepts of nature and moral attitudes. There is an intensive popular discourse, if and what kind of birdhouse-practices are "right", ecologically worthwhile and educationally meaningful. Also the question, which birds are the welcomed visitors and inhabitants of the birdhouse, gives an insight in popular concepts of nature. One respondent told us: "Those nasty parakeets, they always steal the food from our birdhouse. They just don't belong here."

This complex bricolage of attitudes and practices is analysed by a ethnography of material culture, which includes the narrations of and the practices with birdhouses. It includes also a historical perspective focussing on the changing forms, practices and the underlying discourses of and with local birds as expression of establishing cultural orders in everyday life.

Panel Mat04
Shared spaces: perspectives on animal architecture