The series seeks to offer an informal space to share emerging research with interested colleagues in order to gain feedback and to inform collaborative conversations.
This series was presented in partnership with the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry online between February and July 2021.
Professor Danielle Celermajer reads from her new book Summertime and reflects on how we situate ourselves within a climate changing world.
Summertime: Reflections on a Vanishing Future – A reading and discussion
In the midst of the black summer fires, Danielle Celermajer began to write about the cataclysm that was unfolding for the multispecies community in which she lived. These seeds of writing became Summertime (Penguin, 2021), a book of creative non-fiction – a genre that departed from Celermajer’s scholarly writing on multispecies justice. In this talk, she will reflect on some of the challenges of ‘representing’ a climate changing world in ways that do not locate it as an object of analysis, but as the living midst that is our shared home. How can writing bring us close into what it feels like and means not only for humans but the beings with whom we live, to experience the violent unravelling of worlds? In this talk, she will read from Summertime to illustrate how she tried to meet these representational and ethical challenges, not to provide answers, but as a point of departure for conversations we need to have amongst ourselves as scholars living in and deeply concerned about a climate changing world.
Danielle Celermajer is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney, and Deputy Director – Academic of the Sydney Environment Institute. Her books include Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology (Cambridge University Press 2009), A Cultural Theory of Law in the Modern Age(Bloomsbury, 2018), and The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Dany is Director of the Multispecies Justice Project and along with her multispecies community, she has recently lived through the NSW fires, writing in the face of their experience of the “killing of everything”, which she calls “omnicide”. Dany is the Research Lead on Concepts and Practices of Multispecies Justice.
Ruth Barcan (Chair) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies. Ruth’s teaching and research focus on embodiment and the senses in everyday life, with a particular interest in everyday practices of sustainability. Ruth is the author of Academic Life and Labour in the New University: Hope and Other Choices (Ashgate, 2013), Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Bodies, Therapies, Senses (Berg, 2011), Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy (Berg, 2004), and the co-editor of Imagining Australian Space: Cultural Studies and Spatial Inquiry (UWA Press, 1999) and Planet Diana: Cultural Studies and Global Mourning (Research Centre in Intercommunal Studies, UWS Nepean, 1997).
Dr Fiona Allon and Dr Scott Webster question the unnatural formation of “natural disasters” and the ensuing destruction of homes.
On Fire: Cultural Approaches to Domicide and Australia’s Fire Regimes
The housing destroyed in recent bushfires is almost always described by the media not as the loss of houses but rather the loss of “homes”. “Home” is an evocative, polysemic concept and hence one mobilised by different political agendas. Reflecting colonial ideas of progress and civilisation, the individual free-standing dwelling was explicitly conceived of as a place “where the modern defeats the natural” (Schlunke 2016: 219), a trope that persists into the present as “the Australian Dream”. Domestication of land similarly was regarded as a means whereby the strange was kept at bay. But how does this imagined geography respond to “strange weather”: the extreme weather events of climate emergency.
On 8 November 2019, the first day of the bushfire crisis that would subsequently be called “Black Summer”, Fiona Lee’s family home on the NSW coast burned to the ground. After hearing politicians repeatedly say that “now is not the time to talk about climate change”, Lee staged a protest, depositing the ashes of her house outside the NSW Parliament building. If a house’s ashes can become the symbolic remains of life and dwelling, does this mean that the home destroyed by bushfire is also a representative site of “domicide”, the deliberate destruction of home? This paper explores the way in which bushfires challenge our theoretical framework for comprehending home destruction. Porteous and Smith (2001) insist that “deliberate intent” is essential for domicide to take place; it is not the outcome of “natural disasters”. Yet the very idea of “natural disaster” remains inadequate as a term of description for the entanglements of the human and natural that are at the heart of a changing climate and its consequences. If time permits, the paper will also consider some of the new relationships between real estate, finance and climate risk management. The financial and real-estate matrix driving the “suburbanisation of increasingly inflammable wildlands” (Davis 2017) is also ironically the source of novel forms of insurance finance for responding to the climate change that is increasingly regarded as just another risk to be “managed”.
Fiona Allon is based in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Her research areas include home and housing, water and waste, and the politics of everyday environmentalism. She is the author of Renovation Nation: Our Obsession with Home (UNSW Press) and Home Economics: Speculating on Everyday Life (forthcoming with Duke University Press). Together with her GCS colleagues Ruth Barcan and Karma Eddison-Cogan, she has recently edited The Temporalities of Waste: Out of Sight, Out of Time (Routledge).
Scott Webster was recently awarded his PhD with the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. His research explores the ‘killing of memory’ (or memoricide) as a phenomenon and argues that, beyond its emblematic imagery as part of conflict in Bosnia, Israel and Syria, it also has normalised, everyday dimensions. Scott also has a longstanding interest in the destruction of home (‘domicide’) and is currently researching how human/nature entanglements complicate our theoretical frameworks for understanding home loss.
Thom van Dooren (Chair) is Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2017-2021) in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. His research and writing focus on some of the many philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. He is the author of The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (Columbia, 2019), and co-editor of Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (Columbia, 2017).
Researcher Lynne Chester investigates the multitude of intersecting cumulative events, (in)actions and institutions that led to the devastating Australian bushfires.
The Conjunction of Cumulative Events, (In)actions and Institutions Causing and Exacerbating Recent Bushfires and the Aftermath
The unprecedented intensity and duration of the 2019-20 Australian bushfires is a much more complex story than one of climate change, as posited by some. Lynne Chester contends that the scale and catastrophic impact of these bushfires were caused—and exacerbated—by a conjunction of cumulative events, (in)actions and institutions. This story is a potent mix of: the problematisation of bushfires and governing; a federation of nation and local states fractured by constitutional responsibilities; the impact of neoliberal austerity policies on land management; discordant local-state policies; a long-term disregard of Indigenous fire practices; the role of community (volunteerism); the transmission of (mis)information by social and traditional media; record temperatures; national rainfall the lowest for over a century; at least a third of the continent experiencing a severe three-year drought; and more. Lynne will outline this potent mix and explore if a similar conjunction could recur given all the recent inquiries.
Lynne Chester is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Economy and is recognised as a leading Australian scholar in the empirical application of French Régulation theory—a heterodox (non-conventional) school of economic thought inspired by Marxian and Institutional Economics. Her research has primarily focused on a range of energy issues such as the economic-energy-environment relation, energy justice, household energy affordability, energy problematization, and the economic regulation of energy sectors. More recently, her research has included Australian bushfires, COVID-19 and universities, and an ARC Linkage Project ‘Solar solutions to improve energy affordability for low-income renters’.
Scott Webster (Chair) was recently awarded his PhD with the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. His research explores the ‘killing of memory’ (or memoricide) as a phenomenon and argues that, beyond its emblematic imagery as part of conflict in Bosnia, Israel and Syria, it also has normalised, everyday dimensions. Scott also has a longstanding interest in the destruction of home (‘domicide’) and is currently researching how human/nature entanglements complicate our theoretical frameworks for understanding home loss.
Image header: Matt Palmer via Unsplash