A Twitch in Time Saves Nine: Birdwatching, Sport, and Civilizing Processes

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Kenneth Sheard University of Leicester

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This study takes an activity, birdwatching, which would appear to fall into the category of leisure activity, and argues using Norbert Elias’s theory of civilizing processes that birdwatching incorporates many of the characteristics of “civilized” sport. The focus is not on birdwatching per se but upon specific types of birdwatching activity: birding and twitching. The suggestion that birding is symbolic hunting is examined, and it is argued that the link between a relatively benevolent and scientific interest in birds and the “real” sport of hunting is historically much closer than often recognized. It is further suggested that the post-war popularization of birdwatching in Britain led to its routinization and a decline in its excitement-generating properties. Competitive birding restored some of the activity’s sport-like excitement, but birding was itself routinized and supplemented by twitching, an even more sport-like activity.

The author is with the Centre for Research into Sport and Society at the University of Leicester, Leicester LEI 7RQ, UK.

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