The Importance of Knowing Animals

Dr O’Sullivan discusses the usefulness of podcasting for spreading the message about research into the lives of nonhuman animals

Podcasting is one of the most important ways in which information has been democratised in the digital era. With little more than a laptop and Internet connection, anybody can have their own radio show, and many people do.

A podcast is an audio file that is available to anybody to listen to, at his or her leisure. Many people access podcasts via iTunes, although they are available on numerous digital platforms. The world’s most popular podcast is called Serial and it has had many millions of downloads (the currency in which podcasts are measured). Recently, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, was interviewed by comedian Marc Maron on his highly successful podcast WTF.

Podcasts are produced for free, and generally available to listeners for free.

I have been researching and writing about nonhuman animals for more than a decade. Prior to commencing my formal education, I was actively involved in organising and promoting public speaking events. My aim was to bring information to the people. One of the ways I did that was by inviting academics, undertaking animal related research, to speak at public forms. While public speaking remains a powerful form of knowledge transfer, with the advent of podcasting I feel that I now have the perfect tool to educate, inform and generally spread the word about research into the lives of nonhuman animals.

My podcast is called Knowing Animals and it was launched earlier this year.

Knowing Animals has two series; the Knowing Animals series that features a different Animal Studies scholar each episode, talking about a piece of their work. And the Protecting Animals series in which I speak to animal advocates about the applied work they do on behalf of animals. Each episode runs for around 20 minutes and all guests are asked the same five ‘quick questions’ at the end. The quick questions allow the responses to be compared between guests, and over time.

I have been fortunate enough to interview some really fantastic people, with many more interviews still to come. From the Sydney Environment Institute I have spoken to Prof. David Schlosberg about his book ‘Political Animals and Animal Politics’; Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel about violence against animals; and Dr. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey about dingos and racial purity. For something a little different, we filmed the recording of the episode with Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and it is available for free on YouTube.

I have also spoken to scholars from a range of international institutions including Prof. Peter Singer; Dr. Anat Pick; and Prof. Erica Fudge.

In the Protecting Animals series I have spoken to Emmanuel Giuffre from Voiceless; Senator Lee Rhiannon from the Greens; and Christine Townend who founded Animal Liberation and Animals Australia.

My hope is that Knowing Animals will enrich the community’s understanding of nonhuman animals and the human-animal relationship. In the case of the Protecting Animals series, I would like to let people know about the work being done, often behind the scenes, to enhance the lives of animals. In the case of the Knowing Animals series, my hope is that by interviewing scholars I can help bring the work to life. I can get the story behind what inspires their work, and I can break down some of the more complex ideas, so they become accessible to all.

So far I have had a ball recording episodes of Knowing Animals. I have many more to come. You can listen to all the episodes of Knowing Animals via iTunes here or via direct download here.

If you want to learn more about podcasting, and perhaps start your own podcast, a group of podcasting enthusiasts meet in Sydney each month to talk about the art of creating a podcast. You can find out more about the group here.

There is an endless world of information out there, much of which is available via podcast. So, if you want to know animals, or know anything else, I suggest that you get podcasting.



Dr. Siobhan O’Sullivan is lecturer in social policy at UNSW. She has published extensively on animal issues, including a book called ‘Animals, Equality and Democracy’ which was published in 2011. You can find Siobhan on Facebook and Twitter.

Image (top): Kai Schreiber ‘animal magnetism’ via Flickr Commons; Image (Siobhan): Supplied