By studying the relationship between crows and humans, philosopher Thom van Dooren envisages new ways of living with animals.

* Lire en français. The English translation is provided by the editorial staff, who are solely responsible for any inaccuracies.

Thom van Dooren's Dans le sillage des corbeaux (In the Wake of Crows) begins with a glance, or rather a double glance, exchanged between the philosopher, author of the recent Tout un monde dans une coquille (A Whole World in a Shell), and a raven. The former realizes that the corvid, whom he is observing, is observing him in return. Thus begins his investigation, which is above all an invitation to be attentive to a "world on the alert", or, in the words of Australian philosopher Val Plumwood, to consider "nature in the active way". Indeed, members of the corvus family (crows, ravens, jackdaws and rooks) are keen observers, calculating and capable of adjusting their behavior. As Thom van Dooren rightly writes: "If we pay them even the slightest bit of attention, crows burst our anthropocentric bubble with a certain panache."

Living together

More broadly, his book is a reflection on cohabitation between species, aimed at overcoming the division between nature and culture, social and ecological, while taking into account the main contemporary issues (environmental crises, the shadow of decolonization, the impact of capitalism, etc.). For Thom van Dooren, it's an "attempt to imagine and put into practice a multispecies ethic, capable of meeting the monumental challenges of our time by focusing precisely on certain crows and the human beings that accompany them". With this in mind, crows are no longer seen as objects, but as actors who also have an influence on the world we share.

Crows are often perceived as a species that benefits from human presence - since they consume some of our waste, for example. They are thus seen as invasive, even though several species of crow are threatened with extinction, making it necessary to delve into the ambivalent links we have with these birds, in order to understand whether they are threats or endangered. Such an investigation has a wider scope, and leads us to embrace the complexity of reality, beyond the ready-made solutions of regulation via culling.

Five territories, five stories

The book is structured around five sensitive, lively stories set in different parts of the world, each exploring a different concept.

Thom van Dooren examines the cohabitation between Torres's raven and the inhabitants of Brisbane, questioning the notion of "community". On the island of Hawaii, it's the eponymous crow, on the brink of extinction, that is the subject of conflict between ecologists and local residents who love to hunt wild boar: measures to protect the crow interfere with certain local practices.

"Biocultural legacies" are at the heart of this story. In Hoek van Holland, in the Netherlands, a project to eradicate Indian crows (corvus splendens), brought in by traffic from the nearby port of Rotterdam, revisits the notion of "hospitality" and qualifies the idea of "an invasive species". The latter overlooks the responsibility of maritime transport in the biodiversity crisis caused by the introduction of new, non-adapted species that are potentially predatory on local environments.

In the U.S. Mojave Desert, scientists are developing drones and lasers to deter crows from eating endangered local turtle hatchlings, without killing them. The philosopher interprets these attempts through the prism of the notion of "recognition", since crows are recognized as having the ability to change their behavior in response to (deterrent) signals.

Finally, on the Pacific island of Rota, the protection of Guam's last remaining crows illustrates the complex - and often conflicting - relationships between inhabitants, conservationists and animals.

Hope as active work

This last story also reveals a new conception of hope: "There is an understanding of hope that refuses to be simply opposed to 'despair', a hope that cannot be reduced to the notion of 'optimism'. Hope is a profoundly mortal proposition: it is a way of inhabiting a world that is fundamentally uncertain and imperfect, but in which something better is possible by looking to the future", writes Thom van Dooren.

It is the testimonies of some of the inhabitants of this island of Rota that inspire this formulation of hope as a "project", or "work": "It's not a vague optimism for the future, but something to work on, to build, to share with others so that it can take root and grow uncontrollably, wildly. Hope is the perpetual effort to cultivate the conditions for a better future. [...] Hope as the work of caring for the future."

This story ends with a beautiful image: that of the provisions crows make by hiding nuts. The philosopher presents this as active work that comes under the heading of hope, since these birds are betting that they will still be around to find them in the future.

Attention to the relationships between people is a crucial condition for this hope. Between each story, interludes highlight the behavioral and cognitive capacities of crows, based on scientific experiments or anecdotes, testifying to the intelligence of these birds.

Thom van Dooren appeals to our sense of responsibility in telling these stories of crows and their relationships with humans. In so doing, he proposes new ways of imagining our relationships with other species, and thus of inventing other possible futures. The notion of flourishing, for us as for non-humans, is also central to his thinking, which is anything but theoretical, firmly rooted as it is in these five local, contextualized case studies.

To those who might conclude that analysis is a form of paralysis, the philosopher warns: "The complexity of real worlds and the inevitable bias of our point of view cannot justify indifference and inaction."