There's an animal in all of us

5 July 2013

Are human beings just another species facing extinction? We are just one animal in the world's ecosystem, yet we live our lives as if we matter more than any other life form.

Such thinking has had catastrophic impacts on the planet, including climate change and the extinction of animal species.

A growing number of scientists consider this epoch calls for a new definition, and have unofficially coined the term "the Anthropocene" ("Anthro" = human; "-cene" = new) to describe the massive disruptions humanity has made to the global ecosystem.

On 8, 9 and 10 July, the Life in the Anthropocene Conference 2013 at the University of Sydney will draw together international experts from across the humanities and social sciences, law, natural sciences and veterinary science to address such concerns.

The conference will also bring together voices from beyond the academy to examine how knowledge of human-animal relations requires novel starting points and cross-disciplinary connections.

The conference is hosted by the University's Human-Animal Research Network (HARN), an interdisciplinary network that researches human-animal interactions, animal ethics, conservation issues, animal welfare, the meaning of humane research, the roles of zoos and wildlife parks, questions relating to why relationships to pets seem 'different' to feelings for other animals; why some animals have protective legislation and others do not; why some of us eat particular animals but not others; why being 'an animal' is akin to denigration, and what cruelty to animals says about us.

"At a time when the natural world is ever more subject to human intervention, interspecies relations face many challenges. It is time to reconsider our place with the other animals," said Dr Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, the coordinator of HARN.


  • Dr Morgan Richards, postdoctoral research fellow, University of Queensland

Topic: Screening the Anthropocene: Attenborough, environmental politics and wildlife

David Attenborough's BBC documentaries fundamentally changed the way we look at wild animals and the environment but his landmark series continue to frame nature as separate from human culture and politics. As a wave of environmental problems - from climate change to mass extinctions - gathers force, Dr Richards will ask how this celebrated communicator has rendered animals and the environment visible as objects of popular fascination and concern. (Dr Richards's Wild Visions: The Rise of Wildlife Documentary, will be published by Manchester University Press later this year).

  • Christine Townend, writer, and founder of Animal Liberation Australia

Topic: Where is the poetry supporting animal rights?

Anna Sewell's Black Beauty was written in the first person, as if the horse was telling its own story. In the 19th century, the novel raised awareness of animal cruelty and mobilised its generation to do better. In her talk, Ms Townend will ask why nowadays so little poetry is written in the first person from the animal's point of view. Such poetry would be a powerful tool to express graphically and passionately the fact that animals are sentient creatures.

Topic: "For the animals that didn't have a Daddy to put them on the boat...." (from Beasts of Southern Wild)

In a climate-changing world, what we mean by "the environment" is now unstable with human actions affecting the very makeup, functioning and evolution of global and local ecosystems and habitats. There is no "wild" in this new era. The new reality of an Anthropocene undermines the founding principles of environmental management; there is no longer a past ideal environment to return to, but instead a rapidly and ever-shifting future. (Professor Schlosberg's The Climate-Challenged Society is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2013)

  • Dr Deirdre Wicks, Voiceless Council member and research fellow at University of Newcastle

Topic: The dairy cow and reproductive technology in the Anthropocene

In her talk Dr Wicks will explore the impact of human intervention on the modern dairy cow. While human/cow contact is ancient, we have entered a new phase where reproductive technologies and techniques of mass production have reduced the cow to an object.

  • Dr Siobhan O'Sullivan, research fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne

Topic: Seeing is believing: nonhuman animals and liberal democracies

Dr O'Sullivan specialises in animal protection issues, including the structure and function of animal-welfare laws, which she sees as not consistent with liberal democratic values. Her book Animals, Equality and Democracy describes inconsistencies in such laws and explores the relationship between the community seeing animal suffering, and opposing it.

  • Professor Adrian Franklin, Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania and presenter of ABC TV's The Collectors

Topic: Nativism and naturalisation: strategies for the anthropocene

In addition to the exponential loss of habitat associated with globalised economic development there is also the increasing human tendency to take greater control over much of the undeveloped and altered habitats that remain. Professor Franklin will argue that in many places this amounts to the domestication of wild spaces.

Follow University of Sydney Media on Twitter

Media enquiries: Jacqueline Chowns, 02 9036 5404, 0434 605 018,