Seminars

Grass verge project

HARN Seminar 7: Exploring Biodiversity as Cultural Value
June 2014

The considerable reduction in biodiversity over recent decades is an issue with less immediately obvious consequences for humans than the dramatic risks associated with climate change. Rising sea levels will render millions of people homeless, but the decline in the global number of species conveys more subtle and ambiguous dangers. There may be significant unforeseen consequences to the loss of some organisms (as became evident with the recent collapse of the South Asian vulture population), but the loss of others may have no apparent consequences for humans at all. It seems abundantly clear that human cultures rely on pollinators such as bees, but would they really miss the pygmy three-toed sloth?
The issue of biodiversity loss evokes, therefore, complex questions of value. To whom does extinction matter, why, and how? Answers to these questions often rely on a principle of concealed usefulness. In this outlook, biodiversity represents a vast data bank of genetic information that contains an array of undiscovered possibilities for medicine or industry. A striking contrast to this hard-nosed, market-driven approach resides in the emotional attachment to certain species, or to the natural world more generally, that motivates many conservation campaigns. Such reasoning, though widely on show, has the disadvantage of appearing vague, sentimental and under-theorized. What it highlights is the urgent need for a humanities perspective on the question of biodiversity loss as a key part of the global challenge of responding to climate change. It is also important to situate contemporary thought in relation to a longer history of ideas about biodiversity as this allows for a far deeper appreciation of the complexities of this urgent issue in the twenty-first century and brings the question of extinction into contact with other central ecological, ethical and socio-political concerns. How, for example are the rhetorics and philosophies of value that currently shape public discourse on biodiversity loss challenged by (and how do they in turn complicate) related cultural evaluations of nonhuman death?
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HARN Seminar 6: More than Human
April 2014

Professor Lesley Head FAHA FASSA
Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities
Director, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER),University of Wollongong

The distinctive capacities of plants, and implications for animal studies
Although the agency of plants is increasingly demonstrated, scholars have yet to fully respond, for plants, to Lulka’s (2009) call to attend more carefully to the details of nonhuman difference. This presentation draws on collaborative work with Jennifer Atchison and Catherine Phillips. We provide a systematic and provisional overview of the shared capacities of plants, in order to take them seriously in their own terms, and to consider what that means for human-plant relations more generally. We begin by identifying and discussing materialities and capacities that scientists consider plants to share, plus three additional capacities fundamental to plant living – moving independent of humans, sensing and communicating, and taking shape as flexible bodies. Together these contribute to a sense of plant worlds in which distinctive but highly variable plant forms have their own lives and also interact with humans and others in contingent ways. As empirical illustration we explore the adversarial relationship between rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) and invasive plant managers in northern Australia. We conclude by considering some comparative implications for animal studies.


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HARN Seminar 5: A Plague on our House: Obesity, pests and the Devil’s Cancer
November 2013

Professor Katherine Belov
Sympathy for the devil: how do we stop a contagious cancer?
ARC Future Fellow | Professor of Comparative Genomics
Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
Professor David Raubenheimer
Penny wise pound foolish: geometry, obesity and the cost of food
Leonard P Ullman Chair in Nutritional Ecology and Nutrition Theme Leader
Charles Perkins Centre | Faculty of Veterinary Science | School of Biological Sciences
University of Sydney
Professor Edward C. Holmes
The greatest evolutionary experiment: viral biocontrol of rabbits
NHMRC Australia Fellow
Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases & Biosecurity,
School of Biological Sciences and Sydney Medical School
University of Sydney

Workshop with Professor Cary Wolfe (Rice University) (July 2013
Chair: Dr Dinesh Wa[[diwel (Sociology, HARN)




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HARN Seminar 4 North/South: Human/Animal
May 2013
The geography of human-other animal encounters matters. Places and spaces have politics and imaginaries that entangle multi-species pasts and futures and continually reposition human and non human subjects. In this seminar we examine aspects of how human-other animal relations intersect with geographies of settlement in Australia. We focus on inside / outside relations, exploring the way that non human others shape the geo-political and biopolitical borders of our selves, cities and nation.
Dr Chris Degeling (VeLiM)
Fantastic Invasion: Biological Insecurity and the Moral Standing of Hendra Virus
Dr Dinesh Wadiwel (Sociology)
Saving 'Our' Cattle: Race and Animal Advocacy
Assoc Professor Tess Lea (GCS)
Mosquito architecture: how things that bite shape cities

The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments (February 2013)
Dr Andrew Knight
The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments (Palgrave Macmillan)
Few ethical issues create as much controversy as invasive experiments on animals. Some scientists claim they are essential for combating major human diseases, or detecting human toxins. Others claim the contrary, backed by thousands of patients harmed by pharmaceuticals developed using animal tests. Some claim all experiments are conducted humanely, to high scientific standards. Yet a wealth of studies has recently revealed that laboratory animals suffer significant stress, which may distort experimental results.


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HARN Seminar 3: Dangerous Animals
February 2012

When, and how, do animals 'become' dangerous? Perhaps surprisingly, human fear and loathing of particular animal species is a recent phenomenon in Australia. Neither sharks nor spiders were considered serious hazards to human life until the late 1920s. The subsequent stampede to science and policy to quantify, control and exterminate these beasts illustrates how readily ‘dangerous’ animals have been constructed in line with cultural sensitivities rather than biology. But what makes an animal dangerous? Why do ancient animosities towards snakes persist through millennia, while equally enduring fears of frogs and toads fade away? Why is the venomous platypus considered cuddly, yet furry funnel-web spiders provoke disgust? How do humans decide when it is safe to go back in the water, and why does a howl of ‘Shark’ empty beaches in moments? Moreover, how does perception or ‘proof’ of dangerousness alter the moral standing of animal species, permitting practices such as vivisection, culling or outright eradication? Drawing upon cultural theory and biology, history and current policy, this seminar will explore the aversive aspect of human-animal relations, with particular emphasis on Australian circumstances and examples.
Peter Hobbins Department of History, University of Sydney
Christopher Neff Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney


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HARN Seminar 2: In Human Care (August 2011)
In what ways do humans 'care' for animals? The contexts in which the term ‘care’ is used demonstrate its multipurpose and also, perhaps, an assumption that we know what care is and what it can do. Can care be motivated, activated or focused on doing certain things and not others? How do we assess, read and measure ‘care’ in relation to the animal human bond? This seminar approaches the issue of care from three different angles. Malcolm France discusses the perceptions and practice of care in the context of the use of animals in research; Anne Fawcett discusses how veterinarian’s reading of the human animal bond impacts on mobilisation of care. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey examines the work of Stanley Cohen (States of Denial) noting how different ‘cultures’ of denial effect the mobilization of care.
Dr Anne Fawcett
Faculty of Veterinary Science, Sydney
The human animal bond and its role in determining treatment of animals in a veterinary clinical context
Malcolm France
Laboratory Animal Services, Sydney
Animals in Scientific Research
Dr Fiona Probyn-Rapsey
Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, Sydney
Activating care and thinking through denial


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HARN Seminar 1: Horse (May 2011)
Professor Paul McGreevy
Faculty of Veterinary Science, Sydney
Flogging a Tired Horse
Celeste Black
Sydney Law School
Plowing by the Tayle’: Horse Welfare and the Law
Assoc Professor Phil McManus
School of Geosciences, Sydney
Thoroughbreds: breeding, racing and beyond