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 ‘multi-species communities’. This work requires me to think again (and again) about ‘community’, about ‘ethics’, about ‘species’, and, always, about the death which goes beyond death to become an irretrievable loss in the world.
No living thing is without interest, and I sometimes like to think of myself as a sniffer dog – everything is of interest, at least for a while. Specifically, the case studies that are central to this blog include Australian dingoes, Flying-foxes (Pteropus spp) throughout their region, Hawaiian monk seals, and Laysan albatross.
I began exploring these questions in my most recent book Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (2011, University of Virginia Press), available in paperback and on Kindle. I have also put many of my articles online at the Academia website. Other books include Reports from a Wild Country, Dingo Makes Us Human, Country of the Heart, and Nourishing Terrains (free download).
The Extinction Studies Working Group, of which I am a founding member, helps nurture my thinking, and supports 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 Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and a Professor in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
Much of the research that I report on concerning endangered species has been funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery Grant: Encounters with Extinction: A multi-sited, multi-species approach to life at the edge of catastrophe in the Asia-Pacific region).
Laysan Albatross, Kaua’i