During the spring 2016 semester, Professor Elizabeth Cherry presented research on the “birding project” during a Faculty Lecture Series event that took place in the library. In an interview with Elizabeth Cherry, she broke down her birding project, from observing to interviewing nature conservation advocates.
Q: What struck an interest in birds, for your extensive sociological research?
Cherry: “I wanted to check out birding as an environmental hobby and see if this is something that I can do research on. So, I started looking into it and this is an environmental hobby that is very understudied, within sociology especially. When we talk about human-wildlife interactions, we tend to focus on things like hunting and poaching. Those are really bad examples of humans exploiting wildlife, and we never study how humans appreciate wildlife. So, I started going on walks with local Audon societies and I’ve done about twenty- five in-depth interviews with birders at this point. So, I’m looking at this from a few different perspectives. How does this
relate to people’s environmental interests? How does birding foster human relationships with birds,
as wildlife creatures themselves? What do people like about this? It even allows me to get into some culture and cognition stuff with regard to how people categorize and classify birds because that’s a huge part of what they do,”said Cherry.
On Oct. 5, 2016, Cherry presented her research that is currently published in “Culture and Activism: Animal Rights in France and the United States.” While most may have thought that this book was about her prior research on birding, due to the small chick on the front cover, this text actually covers a major aspect of social activism for the protection of animals.
Cohérence is a French word that translates into the English as “consistent.” This was a common theme revolving around Cherry’s presentation of her research regarding strategical animal rights activism in France.
The practice of activism requires a certain amount of consistency. For example, animal activists must practice a vegan lifestyle in order to prove their love and respect for animals. However, the French don’t agree with this practice.
Manhattanville junior, Deanna Lasco, discovered something surprising about animal activism in other countries, after a ending Professor Cherry’s lecture.
“I had no idea that France doesn’t view veganism as a positive method of activism,” said Lasco.
Q: During your most recent lecture, Professor Mohamed Mbodj mentioned a French celebrity that was possibly going to be featured as the face of French Animal Rights Activist groups. Why was Brigitte Bardot not very desirable as the face of French animal rights activists?
Cherry: “French activists like to exemplify what they believe in, by being consistent in their activist campaigns, as well as their own personal lifestyles. French Animal Rights Activist did not want to use Brigitte Bardot as the face of their campaign because they did not want to just worship celebrities and she is a very right-wing activist, in regards to politics. Bardot is married to a member of the National Front and has made xenophobic comments and just didn’t represent them very well,” said Cherry.
This is very interesting as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) typically takes advantage of celebrity activism here in the United States. The campaign, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur,” has recently featured celebrities, actresses, and singers, such as: Pink, Olivia Munn, Eva Mendes, and Khloe Kardashian. Ryan Scheckler and Chad Ochocinco are two of the few male models that were used in the advertisements protesting against the poor treatment of animals. Pamela Anderson might have been one of the most striking advertisements for PETA, as the body of the actress and model was compared to the body of the same animals that we eat everyday.
Q: What is your take on celebrity activism? Does it help or hurt the cause?
Cherry: “Basically, celebrity activism is useful for getting more people to pay attention to an issue. However, those celebrities are not professional activists,” said Cherry.
Q: For the Sociology majors, who can relate to conducting eldwork and ethnographic research,
can you elaborate on how your sociological research started?
Cherry: “My father-in-law was an avid bird photographer, which was what originally struck my interest,” said Cherry.
Q: What advice do you have for students working on their final papers, possibly geared for research oriented work?
Cherry: “Choose a topic that you are interested in. The Birding Project began in 2015, with fieldwork
for about a year and a half, and focused on the social construction of nature. For me, I researched French activism for the protection of animal rights for about ten years, starting in 2005 and ending in 2015. And there were times towards the end that I was tired of it, but you have to stick it out. You have to be passionate about what you’re researching,” said Cherry.