Tinbergian Practice, themes and variations: the field and laboratory methods and practice of the Animal Behaviour Research Group under Nikolaas Tinbergen at Oxford University
Beale, Graeme Robert
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This thesis investigates the work of Nikolaas (Niko) Tinbergen and his students, often known as the Tinbergians. Based on extensive archival research, and particularly on intensive study of fieldnotes – a resource largely untouched in previous historical enquiry – I throw new light on the scientific practices both of Tinbergen himself and the practices of individual students of his, including the relationship between research in the field and in the laboratory and the relationship between that research and the Tinbergians representation of their science, both to scientific and lay audiences. Chapter one investigates Tinbergen's own background, and his writings on method and practice. This included a commitment to studying 'natural' behaviour, which led them to be wary of experimental methods that might distort such behaviour. Tinbergen's idea of the 'ethogram' – a complete listing of the behavioural repertoire of a species – is here linked to earlier interest in comparative anatomy as a means of elucidating evolutionary relationships Contrary to the work of Eileen Crist, who argues that ethologist concern to produce mechanomorphic descriptions of behaviour led them to see their animals as machines, I show that the fieldnotes regularly included anthropomorphic description, which only later was excised in writing up scientific publications where mechanistic description and a programmatic rejection of anthropomorphism were the norm. The backgrounds of many of Tinbergen's contemporaries and students was considered in the first half of chapter two, and showed that almost all members of the school had a background in amateur natural history and strong personal and aesthetic affection for the animals they studied. The early fieldwork of the Tinbergians is examined in more detail in the second half of the chapter. This considers the work of two of Tinbergen's students: Robert Hinde and Martin Moynihan. Hinde's work is shown to be transitional between earlier approaches to animal behaviour and the more systematic methodology promoted by Tinbergen, while Moynihan's work instantiated a particularly pure expression of early Tinbergian ideals. Tinbergen's Oxford laboratory is the subject of chapter three, looking in particular at how 'natural' behaviour was studied in an artificial environment. I look at the work of Desmond Morris, Margaret Bastock (later Manning) and J. Michael (Mike) Cullen. Morris's work reproduced field techniques of intensive close observation of behaviour in the laboratory. Bastock's work, largely overlooked by previous historians, showed interest in behaviour genetics. Cullen's work illustrates the difficulties of studying natural behaviour under laboratory conditions, and emphasises the value that Tinbergians placed on direct observation over other possible recording techniques. I then proceed to a more general consideration of the relationship between laboratory and field in the early years of the Tinbergen school. Change over time is the theme of chapter four. Many of the early methodological commitments of the school were subsequently abandoned as the observation-led approach to behaviour gave way to a more explicitly theory-led and interventionist concern with causation, development, evolution and function. This was apparent both in the field and in the laboratory, and even included the occasional adoption of vivisection – a method dramatically at odds with the ethos of the early Tinbergen school. The final chapter investigates how Tinbergen and others of his school communicated their work to amateur audiences, and shows that in some instances the anthropomorphic observations excluded for their scientific writings reappear in these more popular communications. I then link this to the Tinbergen school's longstanding interest in human behaviour. The thesis is supplemented by a conclusion, and two appendices one listing the students studied in the thesis, and the other listing as many of Tinbergen's students as I can identify with surety.