Concepts and practices of multispecies justice

Reconceptualising justice

In 2020, in the wake of the bushfires in Australia and ongoing climate related catastrophes around the globe, and now in the face of the ravages being brought by COVID-19, the world looks very different to the way it did, even a year ago. Radically altered times demand radically altered ways of thinking and living. If they are to fulfil their role of supporting decent and flourishing lives, our core concepts and basic institutions need to become responsive to the realities of the moment. It is the task of universities to join with others – artists, activists, policymakers – to catalyse these transformations and help imagine how we bring them into our institutional worlds and daily lives. In a world where the Anthropocene is heightening injustices and introducing new forms of injustice, justice is one of the concepts and an area of practice crying out for wholesale renovation.

Historically, justice has most commonly been thought of the preserve of humans, and critical scholarship and advocacy principally have sought to ensure that all humans were subjects of justice. More recently, the grave harms inflicted on non-human animals and the environment have come to be understood as injustices, demanding that we ask, "what would justice across the human-more-than-human world look like and entail?" To date, scholars of human rights, animal ethics and environmental studies have worked to conceptualise justice, analyse the production of injustice, and reimagine institutions with a view to their respective subjects of concern (humans, animals, environment). The impacts of the most pressing problems of our era, however – climate change, indigenous rights, resource depletion, and industrial farming for example – cross the boundaries of these fields and subject categories.

This project is the first of its kind explicitly dedicated to multispecies justice. Over the last 18 months, the Multispecies Justice project has challenged scholars to reconceptualise justice in a way that is sufficiently capacious and fluid to accommodate the vast breadth of our multispecies world. This requires our imagining and including modes of representation and other political practices equipped to appreciate and accommodate the justice claims of all ecological beings – individuals, systems, and their relations.

Through collaboration, shared imagining and interdisciplinary, multispecies conversations, the Multispecies Justice collective has worked to produce scholarship that penetrates and transforms the three areas of research (human rights, environmental studies, human-animal studies) and scholarship in various disciplines, at the same time as defining a new field.

Looking forward, with interdisciplinary, multi-institutional and more-than-human co-operation at the core of this projects design, the Multispecies Justice collective, alongside collaborating academics, artists, activists and practitioners aim to bring desperately needed insights, perspectives and practical ideas to a world where all species and multispecies relations are beset by grave injustices.

Contributors: Professor Danielle Celermajer, Professor David Schlosberg, Professor Julia Kindt, Associate Professor Thom van Dooren, Associate Professor Dinesh Wadiwel, Professor Anik Waldow, Dr Christine Winter, Dr Sophie Chao

Featured research project


Developing systems and capacities to protect animals in catastrophic fires

Producing processes to support communities in caring for animals in fires

Research outputs

COVID-19 catalysed a renewed focus on the interconnected nature of human health. Together with the climate crisis, it highlighted the entanglement of human health with the health of non-human animals, plants, and ecological systems.

In this article published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry in 2023, Professor Danielle Celermajer and Philip McKibbin challenge the notion that humans are distinct from the rest of nature and the ethics that flow from this understanding.

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To launch the Special Issue of the journal Cultural Politics on Multispecies Justice in 2023, the editors and four contributing authors explored the capitalist and colonial roots of injustices that occur at the sites where they work – in the worlds of First Nations Peoples, in Oceans, in the sites of industrialised animal slaughter, and even in contemporary artworks seeking to resist the erasure of more-than-human lives.

They speculated on how anti- or post-capitalist and anti- or post-colonial forms of life, meanings, and institutional arrangements might create the conditions for justice for all earth beings.

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Sydney Environment Institute Deputy Director Danielle Celermajer wrote "Intergenerational Multispecies Justice: No Longer a Leap Elsewhere" for the Australian Humanities Review in 2023.

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In June 2022, a panel of SEI experts called for institutionalising justice for all species through key areas of innovation such as international laws on ecocide and the expansion of personhood beyond humans.

Learn more here.

Confronting another climate change summer of extreme, it’s obvious the future of humans and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. New theories of justice must respond to this ecological entanglement.

In this issue Professor David Schlosberg and Professor Danielle Celermajer look at a new approach to a growing environmental threat, political economist Beck Pearse discusses economic justice and the future of coal in Australia, we reflect on our series of four symposia with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences about what justice means in a multispecies context – and more.

The SEI magazine was curated by Michelle St Anne and edited by Liberty Lawson.

Issue 4: The Multispecies Justice Collection (2020) (pdf, 5.2MB)

In June 2019, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney hosted a series of four symposia featuring University of Sydney and international academics and experts to work in a focused and exploratory way on the question of what justice means in a multispecies context.

Learn more here.