Symposium, "On Species: Narrative, Indigeneity, Ecology, Afterlife," 4 December 2013, with ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions "Fire Stories" conference

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 09:00Friday, December 6, 2013 - 20:00

On Species: Narrative, Indigeneity, Ecology, Afterlife 

4 December 2013

Alan Gilbert Building
The University of Melbourne

Supported by the Macgeorge Bequest

Alb Quarrell holding his prized thylacine kill, 1921This one-day Australian Centre conference will focus on new approaches in the Australian humanities to questions of species and ecology. It will look at the ways in which encounters with species play themselves out in creative media - drama, fiction, film, performance, poetry, and visual art. It is especially interested in the way the lives and deaths - and afterlives - of species in Australia and the region are represented and understood. What kinds of narratives do particular species generate, and why? How can we historicise narratives about species? What kinds of perspectives on species can cultural work in the humanities now provide? And how do species enable us to rethink our relationship to them - and their relationship to us?


Confirmed keynote speakers

Professor Ursula K. Heise, University of California, Los Angeles. Macgeorge Visiting Speaker.

Legally Gone: Endangered Species' Laws and Culture

Listen to Heise's lecture and view her slides by dowloading this mp4 file

Biologists claim that humans are currently confronting the sixth mass extinction of species in the history of life on Earth, with human activity as the major cause for the first time. A multitude of books, films, photographs, websites, paintings and other art works have sought to document and mourn disappearing species over the last few decades, while scientists and policy-makers have crafted global databases, red lists, and laws to protect them. This presentation will compare the endangered species laws of Bolivia, Germany, and the United States to explore to what extent they are shaped by internationally shared policies or by distinctive national and regional cultures. Endangered species laws, as legal and cultural texts, embody particular conceptions of cross-species relations and of risk that need to be considered in parallel with aesthetic representations of endangered species.

Ursula K. Heise is a Professor of English at UCLA and a faculty member of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Her books include Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford University Press, 2008), and Nach der Natur: Das Artensterben und die moderne Kultur [After Nature: Species Extinction and Modern Culture] (Suhrkamp, 2010). She is currently working on a book entitled Where the Wild Things Used To Be: Narrative, Database, and Endangered Species.


Professor Peta Tait, La Trobe University

Cute Pet or Nuisance Pest? Ecologies of Human Emotions and Kangaroo Bodies

Listen to Tait's lecture by downloading this mp3 file

From the fictional Skippy to the reality of road kill, kangaroo bodies are surrounded by contradictory emotions. The ways in which humans develop emotional feelings for one animal and, even for a species, might seem to favour all animals. But human emotions can be an animal trap. This paper explores a politics of emotions and bodily feelings in relation to kangaroo performers and decorative images that point towards ecological contradictions. 

While labelled a gentle mother and a cute curiosity internationally, the kangaroo has been viewed as an aggressive fighter or a pest in Australia, which supports hunting or 'harvesting'. The kangaroo body was and is treated like an unlimited natural resource. 

Kangaroo species have only recently been more carefully studied in their respective ecologies (Jackson and Vernes 2010; Simons 2012). Of interest in this paper is how human sensory encounters with other animal species are body based and implicate feeling responses as well as cognitive ones (Merleau-Ponty 2004; Acampora 2006). A surprise encounter with a kangaroo in grass land feels different to an expected viewing of a kangaroo 'body' in a zoo preserve. How can the imposition of human control over other species bodies be unravelled at the level of a species phenomenology of the body and ecology? Human-animal encounters produce visceral responses such as a bodily alertness even cautious wariness, and, importantly, through the processes of seeing, smelling and/or hearing. Perhaps for other animals, the encounter is more about sound and smell than sight. Yet it repeatedly implicates a sensory perception of the strangeness of the other’s animal body. Human feeling responses and emotions are potent, unstable fleeting conditions but they are not species neutral. Nonetheless unexpected live human-animal encounters might be potentially positive because these are immediate and direct with rapid bodily responses that can initially short circuit cognitive precepts and possibly even emotional patterns. Sentimental decorative kangaroo bodies might be all pervasive in Australian culture but kangaroo emotional ecology is not protected. 

Professor Peta Tait is an academic scholar and playwright with an extensive background in theatre, dramatic literature, performance theory and creative arts practice. She researches in the interdisciplinary humanities fields of emotions, body theory and gender identity. Professor Tait's recent books include Wild and Dangerous Performances: Animals, Emotions, Circus (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), Circus Bodies (Routledge, 2005) and Performing Emotions (Ashgate, 2002). She has published in journals including Theatre Journal, Modern Drama and Performance Research. She is sole writer of 5 produced plays, co-writer of 2, and writer for 3 contemporary performances. Professor Tait began working at La Trobe University in 1996 and was awarded a personal chair 2004. She was elected to the Executive Board of Performance Studies International 2005-2009, and her visiting professorships include NYU Performance Studies in 2000 and the University of Helsinki in 2010. She regularly receives international invitations to present on circus body phenomenology.


On Species: Narrative, Indigeneity, Ecology, Afterlife is a one-day symposium that takes place on day 1 of the Fire Stories conference, convened by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, 4-6 December.

Further details to follow.