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Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activism

July 12, 2015 - July 15, 2015

6th Biennial Conference of the Australian Animal Studies Group (AASG): July 12-15, 2015.

Convened by the Australian Centre and the Human Rights & Animal Ethics Research Network (HRAE), University of Melbourne.

The human/nonhuman animal relationship is continually in flux. In the twenty-first century our relationship with other species is more complex than ever. Images of animals dominate advertising and the internet. Many people feel a profound connection with their companion animals, consider them part of the family, and grieve when they die. At the same time almost all the species we breed for consumption are processed through the animal industrial complex, and are neither seen, nor heard, nor touched in a living state. Animal exploitation and commodification is increasingly hidden from public view. The predominance of some species, and the complete absence of others, in our relationships with animals, raises important questions about how we understand and empathise with others. Why do so many people have such an emotional response to animals? Why do children bond with animals? What have we lost by excluding so many animals from the public domain – from our cities and day-to-day lives?

New advances in science indicate that we are only beginning to understand the complex nature of the emotional and ethical lives of animals. Philosophers have begun to re-think the way in which they have theorised some form of ‘essential’ divide between human and nonhuman animals in order to define what it means to be ‘human’. Political scientists have begun to discuss the issue of social justice for animals. Artists, writers and filmmakers now question the validity of an anthropocentric viewpoint in their creative works.

In this interdisciplinary conference, Animal Publics, we ask: How can the lives of animals be made visible – brought into the public domain? How might they be transformed? What roles might direct engagement, academic discourse, bearing witness, the arts, or community debate take? What part do emotions play in the changes taking place across a range of key discourses and in our relationships with nonhuman ‘others’? How should we understand our emotional response to animals and how important should the emotional lives of animals be to us? How might the emotions, empathy and activism be brought to bear on making the lives of animals visible in the public domain?

(Image: “Eastern Grey Kangaroo: from the left, Number!“, David Jenkins)


July 12, 2015
July 15, 2015


Australian Animal Studies Group


University of Melbourne
Melbourne, Victoria Australia + Google Map