Opinion

MSJ Series: Thinking and Enacting Justice in a Multispecies World

The Multispecies Justice blog series features content from researchers in the FASS Strategic Research Program Project called ‘Developing the field of Multispecies Justice’. The first blog post in the series by project lead Danielle Celermajer explores what motivates FASS’s new research theme on Multispecies Justice.

By Zlikovec, sourced via Shutterstock, stock photo ID: 604579622.

As I write, I am looking out on what I have always known to be the fecund green of the Kangaroo Valley on the South Coast of NSW. Like the rest of the state though, and pretty much the entire east of Australia, the grass is thin and brownish, and the ground – normally gumboot-muddy – has no give under your feet. There is a battle going on over legislative regulations requiring that a certain proportion of the river flows be preserved for ‘the environment’, as some demand an increase in the permissible proportion that can be diverted for their crops and animals (and hence their livelihood and our food), and gruelling images of starving animals make present to the urban majority the immediacy of climate change.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, the hurricane-led storms in the Carolinas have not only left the already marginalised without basic infrastructure, but have killed millions of chickens, unable to escape the industrial feedlots where they were caged, and broken the holding pens in which pig and mining waste had been ‘contained’, so that it now flows back into the water that will nurture all of us alike – humans, non-human animals and the environment. Today, we are no longer able to deny that we live in a multispecies world. All earth inhabitants are entangled in crises we are experiencing together.

What is a just response to the many instances our world now faces of resource scarcity, radical inequalities of power, intra and inter-species violence, competing and apparently incommensurable demands, and expected losses on an unfathomable scale? It is this question that motivates FASS’s new research theme on Multispecies Justice, which I am co-leading with Professor David Schlosberg, and which includes SSPS scholars A/Prof. Susan Park (Government and International Relations), Dr. Rebecca Pearse (Political Economy) and Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel (Socio-legal Studies), and a rich inter-disciplinary team from across the faculty: Dr Francesco Borghesi (Italian Studies), A/Prof Julia Kindt (Ancient History), Prof. Iain McCalman (SEI/History), Dr. Dalia Nassar (Philosophy), Dr. Astrida Neimanis (Gender and Cultural Studies), Dr. Killian Quigley (SEI), Michelle St Anne (SEI), A/Prof. Thom van Dooren (Gender and Cultural Studies) and A/Prof. Anik Waldow.

The latter part of the twentieth century was, in many respects, a boon time for scholarship oriented on questions of justice. John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice inaugurated a new era in normative political theory aimed at articulating principles for justice amongst humans, followed by (amongst others) Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, and Nancy Fraser and Iris Marion Young’s work on the inter-penetration of the structures of status and economic injustice. Robert Bullard’s work on unequal exposure and protection and

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring catalysed what became the vibrant field of thinking about environmental justice, and, later, the emergence of radical challenges to both the anthropocentric and individualistic paradigms of justice, with ecosystems posited as intrinsic subjects of justice and personhood expanded to rivers, mountains, oceans and ecosystems, including in the law.  And Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Carol Adam’s work on animal sentience, sapience, personhood and exploitation opened a vast field of political, legal, philosophical and ethological, scholarship on animal justice. As critical as these scholarly endeavours have been though, they have run along parallel tracks, meeting at points of disagreement (individualism versus system approaches) or sympathetic borrowing (the frame of rights). There have of course been important exceptions, such as ecofeminists, like Vandana Shiva and Val Plumwood, who have drawn attention to the connections between human domination of nature and the domination of women inherent to patriarchy.

Indeed, more recently, scholars in the humanities and the social and natural sciences have been uncovering and articulating the fundamental entanglement of these apparently distinctive zones of life – humans, the ‘natural’ environment, and non-human animals. Responding to long and ongoing histories of colonisation, militarisation, extractivism, and more, this work is increasingly seeking out more situated, case-specific, ways of working through complex questions of justice and responsibility, engaging with a more diverse range of cultural perspectives and practices. Joining scholarship up with the shared experience of the impacts of climate change, the extinction of species, eco-system and forms of life, and industrial farming, this scholarship asks us to think our plight and our aspirations for flourishing together. Doing so will require nothing less than fresh ways of doing scholarship – with each other across our fields of specialisation and discipline, and in the world, as we learn to work with and not on these other subjects of justice. And perhaps most critically, given the stakes, it will demand that we find ways of bringing what might otherwise remain abstract theories and obscure, albeit potentially revolutionary ways of understanding the world, and bringing them into the way all of us – in the academy and beyond, make sense of ourselves, our intuitive sense of justice and the way we live with other earth beings.

Our grouping will be working on these issues, initially focusing on the development of new theories of multispecies justice, climate change, economic justice and biodiversity and extinction. Through a series of workshops and public events, the development of a faculty-wide HDR group, collaboration with artists, high impact multi-authored articles, and engaged media, we hope to establish Multispecies Justice as a critical new field of scholarship.

This Blog post is an extended version of an article by Danielle Celemajer featured in Issue 7 of SSPS Review. To access the original article, click here


Danielle Celermajer is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research stands at the interface of theories exploring the multi-dimensional nature of injustice and the practice of human rights. She recently completed a European Union funded multi-country project on the prevention of torture, focusing on everyday violence in the security sector. Her publications include Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology (Cambridge, 2009), Power, Judgment and Political Evil: Hannah Arendt’s Promise (Routlege, 2010) A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury, 2018) and The Prevention of Torture; An Ecological Approach (Cambridge, 2018). She is now moving in to work on the relational intra-space between human and non-human animals.