Speaker Abstracts

Adam Brown (Deakin University)- Creature Commodities: Playing with/as Nonhuman Animals in Contemporary Video Games

Given the prominence of play in the lives of nonhuman animals and human interactions with them, contemporary gaming environments would in one way seem to be an ideal context for the negotiation of relations between species. To varying degrees, but always to some extent, people learn about other animals through the symbolic status attributed to them in cultural products, and the growing influence of games renders the medium an increasingly pressing concern. From the capture of Pokémon via augmented reality on smartphones to the exploration of open fantasy worlds with responsive canine companions, the ways in which creatures of all kinds are positioned alongside (or against) one another are immensely diverse.

This paper seeks to further expand the commonplace focus of Critical Animal Media Studies (CAMS) research on traditional media forms to the realm of digital media, particularly in relation to contemporary video games. Researchers have only just begun to examine the common tendencies toward naturalising anthropocentrism and speciesism in game representations of nonhuman animals. The ever-present tension between structured narrative and player agency often produces significant challenges for an ethical engagement with nonhuman animals, which frequently find themselves subject to commodification, exploitation, and abuse through both game design and gameplay. A close analysis of several popular video games released in recent years highlights the limitations and potentialities of representing and playing with (or as) other species on the screen. In doing so, I analyse the roles of player decision-making and affective experience, the possibilities for other species to shift from objects to subjects, and to what extent the ‘human’/‘animal’ binary might be challenged before the game ends.


Ed Burns & Dylan Weinberger (LaTrobe University)- The species focus of veterinarian on the new registration board Victoria, 1887: horses, food and settlers

In 1887, the new Victorian Veterinary Surgeons Act established a Veterinary Board restricting surgical and medical treatment of animals to ‘registered veterinary surgeons’, that is, those with formal educational qualifications for the ‘cure or prevention of diseases’ of animals (with existing practitioners’ sunset clause). Professionalisation narratives mostly see this restriction as paralleling doctors, dentists, accountants and other occupational groups. Today there are many occupations and groups focused on animal care in Australian society, but to a considerable extent veterinary work has been naturalised as the ‘peak profession’ in animal wellbeing regulation. A century later we can see that this nineteenth-century occupational cadre had a very different species focus different from present-day pet/companion animals, or farm monitoring, breeding or disease management programs. In one way, this change in definition of animal care can be understood as part of modernisation, specifically western modernisation. A more detailed Australian framing might see the species focus shift in era terms: as positioned between an equine focus on horses as transport and beasts of burden; then industrialisation of public meat production and distribution; then slowly broadening ‘cost and efficiency’ gains in farming of dairy cows and sheep in the first half of the twentieth century and then pigs, chickens. Finally, veterinarians are keystone functionaries in today’s multi-species focus noted above, including additional regulatory pest and disease border roles. Naming veterinarians as key players in this sweep of time assists in challenging the invisibilising of farmed animals as mere units of human production and consumption, at enormous scale, of enormous environmental consequence that is characteristic of professional-industrial western society. This historical note documents the onset of this formalised hegemonic legitimacy.


Katherine Calvert (Deakin University)– The Discourse of Natural horsemanship and new welfarism: A Foucauldian analysis of the film Buck (2011)

The portrayal of harmony between human and horses and a new kinder way of training horses is the main feature of the documentary film Buck (2011) that gained overwhelming positive reactions. The film Buck (2011) presents this type of training, also called “Natural Horsemanship” as a different way of interacting with horses that results in increasing communication, relationship and friendship leading to improved welfare outcomes for horses. However closer analysis uncovers different processes at work. Through analysis of scenes from Buck (2011) and drawing on Foucault’s techniques of disciplinary power, this presentation will illustrate how concepts of surveillance, systems of command, the body-object articulation, control of activity and the formation of the docile body apply similarly to the techniques of Natural Horsemanship. It is suggested that using Foucault’s ideas of disciplinary power can help to uncover a discursive shift which, while aiming to increase welfare of horses, only serves to hide and normalise processes of domination. Natural Horsemanship therefore engages with emerging discourses of welfare while still maintaining control and domination of the horse.  In this interpretation, despite the discourse to the contrary, Buck and Natural Horsemanship do not have positive welfare outcomes for horses. This analysis also provides an argument for the necessity of sociological analysis to investigate the underlying power relations that pervade many human/nonhuman interactions.

Adam Cardillini (Deakin University)– Establishing a multidisciplinary research agenda for animal liberation

Freeing animals from human oppression will require drastic change to deeply rooted aspects of our society, industry and ideology. Research from a variety of fields already works to expose, condemn and develop alternatives to animal use; including the fields of animal behaviour, nutrition, environment, psychology, medicine, health, sociology, biomedicine, bioengineering, information technology, marketing, economics, law, engineering, agriculture, genetics and more. Unfortunately, the majority of this research is isolated to the field where it is published in and has not been developed within the context of achieving animal liberation. The complex global systems change required for animal liberation will require a large amount of coordinated research across a range of disparate fields. For example, transitioning dairy communities away from animal use and liberating the dairy cow will require research from agriculture, environment, economics, psychology, sustainable development, nutrition, politics, etc. A multidisciplinary research agenda focussed on animal liberation will be vital for identifying and developing ways for people, society and industry to end their use of animals. There will be significant challenges to establishing a multidisciplinary research agenda for animal liberation. One major challenge is that the majority of research institutions are ideologically and economically entrenched in the use of animals; so it will be difficult to find support and funding. Another challenge will be building a network of interested researchers from a wide range of fields and facilitating their collaboration. To overcome these challenges we must start the conversation and imagine what a strong research community working for animal liberation might achieve.


Rebecca Coutts-Buys (Deakin University) and Vince Marotta (Deakin University) – Exploring the notion of encounter in relational theories: A tentative step towards rethinking multispecies encounters

Whilst encounter is ubiquitously used in contemporary research, it remains under-theorised (Wilson 2016). Relational ways of understanding the world often infer, implicitly or explicitly, notions of encounter, and in the social sciences this is most often underpinned by a conceptualisation of encounters as engagements between discreet, atomised entities. Paradoxically, in doing so, research often denies the very relationality on which it claims to be based. Drawing on specific bodies of knowledge, this presentation will explore the notion of encounter in theories of relationality, with particular focus on knowing, that is the ways in which entities are understood to be relationally known and the operations of power underlined by such accounts. We then tentatively examine the implication of these relational conceptualisations of encounter for critical animal and vegan research, particularly the methodological implications for the ways in which we construct our research, for example the units of analysis we employ if “relations between entities are ontologically more fundamental than the entities themselves” (Wildman 2006).


Clare Fisher (LaTrobe University)- “It fitted with our ethical perspectives”: Dog adoption and the ethical dog caretaker

In recent years in Victoria, issues related to dog homelessness and high kill rates in shelters have generated a significant amount of public attention, which has contributed towards the growing popularity of the “second chance” and “no-kill” approach. Conceptions of what is and is not the most ethical way to acquire a companion dog has somewhat shifted from purchasing puppies from registered breeders to more recently, rescuing dogs from pounds, shelters and community rescue groups. Likewise, the ways in which people understand and form their ethical and social identity in relation to their companion dog has also undergone a shift, with the once historically devalued “mutt” now according their carer an ethical and somewhat “fashionable” status at the local dog park. With this in mind, this paper seeks to trace how the rise of the rescue dog and “no-kill movement” has contributed towards transformations of the ways in which caretakers understand themselves and their dogs, whilst also forming the basis for judgement and denunciation of others who acquire their dog through “unethical” avenues. Drawing upon preliminary findings derived from interviews with dog shelters and rescue groups, coupled with qualitative survey responses, I suggest that the formerly unpopular homeless “mutt” has now become associated with ethical self-identities and social status in contemporary society.


Justine  Groizard (Newcastle University)- Expanding the field: Including the greyhound in ethnographic research of the racing community

Despite the emphasis on nonhuman animal (hereafter ‘animal’) welfare and companionships throughout the developed world, society is rife with notions of anthropocentrism and animal exploitation, and there is a significant contestation about what practices and perspectives underpin animal welfare. In instances, such as for example that of the greyhound racing industry in New South Wales, discourses and ethos of animal welfare (re)produce social boundaries at the intersection of class, gender, race, ethnicity and locality. Disagreement about what constituted ‘fair’ or ‘ethical’ animal practices have, in some cases, led to imperialistic style actions that prevent the anthropocentric practices of some, while allowing parallel practices that are perceived as ‘normal’ by those who have greater social power. One means of working towards a more comprehensive view of what constitutes a ‘fair’ human-animal relationship is to include the animals themselves in the research process and identifying them as viable social actors rather than simply as a part of the social landscape across which these relations take place. Through exploration of qualitative data collected within the greyhound racing community in New South Wales (NSW), this paper explores ideas and ideals about human-animal relationships and their role in people’s sense of self, community and ‘other’. It looks at how some may view their relationship to animals as one characterised by ‘love’, while others characterise it as cruelty animal exploitation. By understanding human-animal relationships as a means to create identity, the paper initiates a discussion of how we can better understand people’s practices and relationships with animals, and, speaks to opportunities of how this research can be built on by including the dogs themselves in an upcoming ethnographic research project.


Anna Halafoff (Deakin University)- ‘The Incertitude of Forms’: Whale watching and the more-than-human turn in sociology of religion

Olivier Perriquiet’s video installation in the ‘The Dreams of Forms’ exhibition, which examines the nexus between art and science at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, offers the viewer a contemplation on incertitude. The inconstant, pixelated, magnified, black and white forms of beluga whales swimming, created by this artist-mathematician-researcher and projected onto the floor of the gallery, are designed to speak to the unease within the current state of the world. They are also aimed to evoke a sense of mystery, and given that the image of the whale is at times discernable, also produce feelings of awe and human-non-human connection experienced in real-world whale watching, and in other human-nature interactions. Lori Beaman has recently framed her investigation of human-turtle relations in terms of Deep Equality. This paper applies Beaman’s theory to Perriquiet’s work in this exhibit, and to preliminary observations on human-whale interactions more generally, to illustrate the emerging more-than-human turn in sociology of religion, which, it argues, can contribute to inchoate discourses on interdependency offered as a remedy for ultramodern uncertainties.

Karina Heikkila (Victorian University) – Non-human animals are not in society: a Derridian perspective of their subordination in society and law

Through the Derridian lens it is possible to examine Western perceptions of beingness, languages, and cultures.  Derrida revealed a perpetual consumption of nonhuman animals, through signification and otherwise. For Derrida, that consumption is constitutive of traditional Western notions, and habits, of human beingness and society.  He revealed that not only are we logocentric, we are carnophallogocentric.  We have defined ourselves as human, in opposition to what we perceive as ‘animal’, and we ravenously consume in our drive to knowledge and self-affirmation.   Derrida’s perspective raises many questions for possibilities of law reform if we are to continue to conceive of animal protections as based in ‘rights’.  That is, where we naively hope to position nonhuman animals as subjects of law or in law, or as members of or in society. We must first address our anthropocentric constructions of law and society.  Rights, according to Derrida, cannot deliver his ‘justice’.  Following him, I argue that unfortunately, rights based on metaphysical, anthropocentric notions are unlikely to properly recognise non-human animals.  Derrida called for a different conception of the future, one that is not cast forward by the past.  It requires a break with the traditional ideas of human selfhood and the devastating distinctions traditionally posited between ‘human’ and ‘animal’.

Through Derrida’s lens, that is beyond the logocentric, and particularly in relation to his final nonhuman-animal-related works, it is possible to begin to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing law reform in favour of non-human animals.  Whilst this paper cannot address the depth of Derrida’s thinking, or offer a full deconstruction of ‘rights’, it will argue that Derrida’s lens should motivate a movement toward addressing injustice from his perspective, to at least peer beyond the cage of carnophallogocentrism.


Jess Ison (LaTrobe University)- Prisons, animal abuse registries, and animal liberation: A critique of punitive measures

“Jockey on fishing trip accused of animal cruelty” was the title of an article that appeared in the Australian news in 2017. The jockey in question had filmed himself stabbing a stingray multiple times before throwing the thrashing animal back in to the water. This was met with immediate calls for punitive measures. This case reflects much of the argument I will make in this paper. Firstly, a jockey rides horses for a living, horses who have been bred and beaten for racing. Only a small percentage of them will ever see a track and most will be killed once they are no longer useful to the industry. Secondly, fishing is the act of killing marine animals. How can a man who whips horses for a living and spends his recreation time killing fish be accused of animal cruelty only when stabbing a stingray?

In this paper, I intend to challenge the increased use of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) in response to alleged animal abuse. One of the key issues in this paper will be asking what, in fact, even constitutes animal abuse? Often the perpetrator in these cases is someone who has harmed a dog, or stingray, and yet we continue to see the rise in numbers of so-called “farm animals” killed for food each year. I will argue that this stark contrast in fact reinforces the PIC and human supremacy over animals.

Alongside this reinforcement of the PIC through calls for harsher penalties, there have been efforts to institute an animal abuse registry in many parts of the world. Through an analysis of the issues resulting from child sex offender registries, I will argue that animal abuse registries will only result in further harassment of those already targeted by the PIC, on the grounds of race and class, whilst ignoring those who kill animals en masse for human consumption.

Overall, this paper will argue that criminalising individual animal abuse does not contribute to ending animal exploitation, and perhaps even reinforces the use of cages and chains that are one of the keys means of abusing animals in industrial farming. I will argue that animal liberation should support prison abolition, not reinforce the PIC.


Maree Kerr (Griffith University) – From bat wars to living under one sky

Flying-fox – human conflict is an increasing issue in Australian towns and cities as urban development both intensifies and extends into rural areas. Flying-foxes are also becoming increasingly urbanised. A lack of understanding of basic flying-fox ecology and appreciation of their extreme mobility, together with an exaggerated fear of disease risk, exacerbates this conflict. Anthropocentric Wildlife Value Orientations toward wildlife and other non-human animals, coupled to a Western culture of superstitions against bats, and a reputation of flying-foxes as a raider of fruit crops has led to demonisation of flying-foxes in Australia.

A flying-fox camp can be noisy and smelly and this can impact on life-style amenity. Historically management has responded by culling, and more recently dispersal. Dispersal has been proven to be ineffective yet active or passive (habitat modification) dispersal is still a common practice. However, many management authorities are now moving towards education. An understanding of why flying-foxes smell (scent marking of territories), their noise (over 50 different social calls), and extreme mobility (flying-foxes move between camps in response to food resources) may assist in strategies to live with flying-foxes.

Many studies on wildlife-human conflict suggest that education can assist in changing tolerance levels and attitudes toward wildlife. However, there has been very little formal research on the effectiveness of education in affecting attitudinal change toward flying-foxes.

My research aims to assess the efficacy of education and interpretation in affecting attitudinal change, in formal (school) education, public programs and community engagement strategies, and to identify the most effective components in changing attitudes toward flying-foxes. I will discuss my research project in relationship with con-current ecological and social research into flying-foxes and other activities (eg Bat tourism) aiming to assist communities to live with flying-foxes.


Melissa Laing (RMIT) –  Encountering interspecies homelessness: Using a Feminist Ethics of Care framework to legitimise ‘Subversive Social Work’ with vulnerable groups

Many humans experience enduring ‘interspecies’ relationships with companion animals, comparable in depth and meaning to those shared with other humans. Humans and companion animals are co-creators of homes, and are affected equally when homes are lost. There has been much written in the social work literature about the need to be mindful of the Human-Animal Bond, as it is never more important than in times of increased vulnerability. Human-Animal Studies scholars have long been aware of the false dichotomy between humans and non-humans, but predictably, human services practitioners are yet to catch up. In Australia, there is an emerging ‘companion animal turn’ in mainstream media and community awareness about the need for consideration of companion animals impacted by domestic violence and other factors leading to homelessness. What is less known is how this ‘turn’ is understood in the field of social work practice.

Some authors have provided insights into, and examples of ways that social workers work subversively to get around practice restrictions precipitated by neoliberalism, and silences in law and policy that further impact their capacity to practice in a caring, ethically sound manner. As a social work researcher, I am interested in the way that life with a companion animal impacts the experience of ‘service users’ with social workers, and in particular within two key areas of practice with vulnerable groups– women experiencing, or at risk of homelessness. I wonder – are social workers subverting anthropocentric practice guidelines to meet the needs of vulnerable interspecies families in acknowledgement and support of this important relationship?

In contrast with limited, human rights-based approaches that social work codes of ethics are created within, I propose and describe a feminist ethics of care framework to understand and legitimise ‘Subversive Social Work’ practice with these groups to encounter interspecies homelessness with open hearts.

Nick Pendergrast (University of Melbourne)- Intersectionality, Integrationist Social Change and PETA’s Animal Advocacy

This conference seeks to challenge the ‘anthropocentric focus of traditional scholarship in both development and sociology’. This is consistent with Critical Animal Studies, which also attempts to move beyond a human-centric framework and recognise speciesism (discrimination based on species) as a legitimate form of oppression in academic work, alongside other forms of oppression amongst humans. Critical Animal Studies scholarship strives to expand the notion of intersectionality to include non-human animals. Taking an intersectional approach means exploring the links between various forms of oppression, analysing how they intersect differently for individuals, acknowledging the similar mindset behind different forms of oppression and viewing all of them as important, rather than just focusing on one particular issue or group. With this mind, in this talk I will explore animal advocacy from an intersectional, Critical Animal Studies perspective that recognises non- human oppression as important, while also viewing human oppression as significant.


Zoei Sutton (Flinders University)– Considering companion animals as critical stakeholders in the home

Human-companion animal relationships are rarely subjected to the level of critique directed towards other human-animal entanglements. Filtered through positive connotations of love, commitment and kinship ties, the asymmetrical power relations inherent in human-companion animal relationships often go un-examined. As such, there is a need for research that better encapsulates the complexities of these relationships, as neither wholly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather including both positive and problematic aspects. In this presentation, I argue that by examining companion animals as critical stakeholders in the home — whose needs, wants, and use of space can and should matter to all members of the household — we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the negotiation of power and space between species in the home. Drawing on qualitative data from interviews and observation with thirty humans and their animal companions, I argue that by including companion animals in research about and for them, we can better understand how we navigate our relationships with animals, and how we can better plan our spaces for them.

Simran Tinani – The Missing Aspect in Indian “Cow Politics”: The Cow Herself

Extensive discussions on the roles of the symbolism of the cow in the social and political dynamics of India have taken place in the past few decades. However, in almost every mainstream discussion and activity, the agency, personhood and ethical standing of the cow (nonhuman animals, in general) are violently obliterated, and replaced by anthropocentric perspectives that view her merely as a resource for material benefits, religious gratification, political mobilization, etc. In this paper, I critique the unquestioned erasure of the sentient animal in question from all facets of the discourse.

I first argue that that the Hindu reverence for the cow is not, in any way, for the animal herself, but for a multitude of anthropocentric meanings attached to her symbol, and that it, in fact, actively erases her personhood. I examine the cow emblem and its role within religion and politics, from the perspective of Emile Durkheim’s framework of totemism. I reason that the cow serves merely as a totem (in fact, a deliberately forged one) in shaping a common, high-caste Hindu consciousness — in the form of “cow protection” — and, more recently, even a part of secular consciousness, in which the totem of “beef” is unfortunately employed in resistance to Hindu fundamentalism.

Next, adopting a feminist framework, I employ Carol Adams’ concept of the “absent referent” to examine the erasure of the cow’s presence and perspective from both the religious and secular sides of “beef debate” and the violence she endures from both these sides. I also look at the sexual and gendered angles both in the literal exploitation (for dairy) as well as in the abstract portrayals of the cow (e.g. imagery of motherhood).

Finally, I analyse the peculiar illustrations and humour in the media, which employ a sarcastic, exaggerated humanization of the cow, aiming at ridiculing her worshippers. While this humour is meant to downplay the personhood of the cow, I argue that its power, in fact, comes from subconscious acknowledgement of and discomfort with the fact that an animal cannot be reduced to meat, dairy, or religious sentiment, and has an inherent, undeniable personhood.


Alex Vince (Animal Liberation)- Challenging the Pest Epithet: Language, Violence, and Oppression

Throughout the modern Western world, animals are vanishing. We know primarily of their disappearance via news media articles announcing the latest in a long line of extinctions, but what becomes of those erased from our consciousness?

This presentation seeks to uncover and expose what the force of words really is, the mechanisms that perpetuate and propagate it, and apply new understandings of the power of language to question and critique current critical examples of humanity’s (ab)use of other animals.

From epithets that signal the diminished livelihoods of “pest” species to the ongoing commercial exploitation of “farm” animals, this excavation of the English language aims to fracture assumptions and foster a more inclusive and kinder worldview for other animals.


Cameron West (LaTrobe University)- Understanding the profile of nonhuman animals on Facebook

The increased participation in online social spaces over the last decade has facilitated the emergence of a number of new forms of social expression. One of the most popular of these is ‘meme’ exchange, but another is in the creation, sharing, and commenting upon images and videos thematically related to animals.  Online social spaces combined with other technologies (high definition, high frame-rate cameras, Smart Phones), which in a sense constitute an apparatus of surveillance, have enabled access to a vast gallery of the minutiae of animal behaviours unprecedented for its level of clarity and intimacy. These same conditions are in part responsible for emphasis of the specific animal-related spectacles that attract most sharing and viewing. This paper touches upon the history of this modern development, and in gathering a month of Facebook data, undertakes preliminary work to grapple with the following questions: under what schema can the different animal content online on Facebook be the categorised? And, what, if anything, can be surmised about impact of this new phenomenon for humans and for animals?