My Life As A Sniffer Dog
This blog is dedicated to life at the edge of extinction. My life’s purpose is to explore the entangled ethics of love, contingency and desire in the face of almost incomprehensible loss. Social justice, ecological justice and human-animal relationships are a good part of it, but the work goes further in wanting to help us to reconfigure our deep understandings of the world of life in this time of cascading loss. I always want to plunge into the depths of things, and my ability to take these plunges has been shaped and given strength through sharing life and learning with Aboriginal people in Australia.
I came to Australia in 1980 to live with Aboriginal people in the hopes of learning about their relationships with country and other species. Instead of going home to the USA, I stayed to work with people on land claims and other decolonising agendas. I became an accomplished bush cook and 4X4 driver, and many of the happiest times of my life were, and are, in the bush.
I now spend more time at the computer than at the driver’s wheel, but my love of the earth’s great generosity of life continues to grow. As love grows, so does anxiety. These are the days of violent catastrophes, of global dimming and moving dust bowls, of habitat fragmentation, ice melt, and plundered lives. Animals too are experiencing all this loss. With species going extinct daily, and with lives and habitats being ruined at every moment, how is a human being to respond? What does it mean for us as ethical and caring creatures to live within the midst of all this loss?
I have been investigating these questions most recently through ethnographic work with ‘multispecies communities’. This work requires me to think again (and again) about ‘community’, ‘ethics’, ‘species’, and, always, about the death which goes beyond death to become an irretrievable loss in the world.
Every living thing is fascinating, and so too are many non-living things. I sometimes think of myself as a sniffer dog: everything is of interest, at least for a while. My research does call for more than a sniff or two, though; the case studies that are central to my current work include Australian dingoes, Flying-foxes (Pteropus spp), Hawaiian monk seals, and Laysan albatross.
I began exploring questions of life, love, death and extinction in my recent book Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (available in paperback and on Kindle). I have also put many of my articles online at Academia.edu. Other books include Reports from a Wild Country, Country of the Heart, Dingo Makes Us Human, and Nourishing Terrains (free download).
The Extinction Studies Working Group, of which I am a founding member, helps me nurture my thinking, and my sense of solidarity in a time when a lot of what is happening is quite desperate. Likewise, the Kangaloon Group of creative scholars concerned about the future of life gives me sustenance.
I am a Professor in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Recently we started a new MOOC (massive online open course) on ‘Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature‘, and I am delighted to be one of the educators. In addition, I am a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.
Much of the research that I report on concerning endangered species has been funded by the Australian Research Council (most recent Discovery Grant, shared with Thom van Dooren: ‘Encounters with Extinction: A multi-sited, multi-species approach to life at the edge of catastrophe in the Asia-Pacific region’).