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Greta LaFleur (American Studies, Yale University) presents an informal talk, followed by a structured conversation about her forthcoming co-authored book of essays on birding. Activated by the The Central Park Birding Incident, the viral story of an encounter between a white woman and a Black man in which the white woman self-consciously sought to mobilize what she knew to be racist practices of policing against Christian Cooper, LaFleur revisits the question: what should parks be for? 

 

Parks, which are in many American cities the last public areas free from what are termed “sit-lie” ordinances, preventing people experiencing homelessness from sitting or sleeping, nonetheless remain important sites for a host of social and political activities, especially as the cost of space in U.S. cities grows rapidly every year. Meanwhile, the Central Park Ramble, where Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper encountered each other on May 25th, 2020, is also a historic, storied cruising spot—a spot to meet up for casual sex, primarily between men. Dawn and dusk—the best time for birding—are also key arrival and departure times for those who use the park for sex or simply sleeping, and this has been cast as a fight between naturalists and cruisers, rather than as a site for potential solidarity around the uses of public space. This presentation explores where the interests of those birding, those cruising, and those who seek to preserve parks for their character as publicly-available spaces converge. The talk thus reflects the larger book project's account of the political landscape of birding, while meditating on the politics of sexuality and homelessness relative to gentrification and city regulation, and how birders might mobilize the respectability politics of naturalism toward a more critical politics against the privatization of public space. 

 

 

Greta La Fleur is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Yale University, and a scholar of the histories of race, science, sexuality, and law, with a special emphasis on eighteenth-century British colonial North America. LaFleur is the author of The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America (2018), and is currently working on two book projects: a scholarly monograph, How Sex Became Good: The Feminist Movements and Racial Politics that Made Modern Sexuality (under contract with University of Chicago Press), and a jointly-authored book of essays on birding, under contract with Duke University Press' Practices series.

Sarah Kessler is an Assistant Professor of English, and her interdisciplinary research spans the fields of comparative media studies, critical race theory, queer and gender studies, voice and sound studies, and television studies. Her articles and essays have appeared in Camera Obscura, Film Quarterly, In These Times, Public Books, Theory & Event, Triple Canopy, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the TV section editor at Public Books.

 

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