Published 05 May 2021
Liberty Lawson: Could you tell us about your project?
Sam Norman: My research is inspired by Multispecies Justice (MSJ), and aims to contribute to the field by exploring how more-than-human beings can be incorporated into the political system as actors. MSJ is concerned with the recognition and addressment of injustices experienced by humans and more-than-human beings, such as animals, plants, and landforms. As an emerging transdisciplinary field, it challenges the traditional Western ways of thinking on such notions as human – nature relations, epistemology and ontology.
My research statement is: How would an ontological shift in understanding political actors to be inclusive of more-than-human beings, impact the traditionally anthropocentric political process and institutions of Australia? Through revising ontologies of human-nature relations, and what constitutes political subjecthood, a new political paradigm can be imagined. Before imagining what multispecies politics would look like, I first analyse the current mode of political conduct – politics under the Anthropocene. While the Anthropocene is defined as the age of humans, I argue that a particular type of human is responsible, the Westerner. With a focus on human–nature relations, I explore the ontological status of beings, the relations between beings, associated knowledges, and power relations which are prevalent under the Anthropocene paradigm. Through such understanding, I begin the journey of a shift away from anthropocentrism to a multispecies more-than-humanism, that is, a political paradigm inspired by MSJ, critical posthumanism, and other philosophies, such as actor-network theory. I follow with theoretical revisions of political subjecthood, recognising more-than-human beings as political actors. Through these theoretical developments, a multispecies political paradigm can be imagined. That is, the exploration of new political avenues and chances of collaboration between humans and more-than-human beings in governance.
“With a focus on human–nature relations, I explore the ontological status of beings, the relations between beings, associated knowledges, and power relations which are prevalent under the Anthropocene paradigm.”
While my project has a theoretical focus, I plan on conducting primary research to enrichen my theoretical understandings and insights. Interviews with people of interest would be critical to deepen my understanding on components within my thesis. For example, an environmental lawyer can provide insight into notions of personhood and political subjecthood for more-than-human beings, while an ecologist can unpack the importance of co-dependency across species. I aim to synthesise my primary research findings with my theoretical developments to further refine my project.
What was the inspiration that lead you to this line of research?
Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have always been drawn to the critical schools of thought which aim to not only explain and critique the world, but point towards the direction of resolving the complex political dilemmas of our time. I remember learning about David Pellow’s work in a first year class, which not only opened my eyes to understanding the world in a new way, but planted the seeds for an interest in critical environmental politics. In 2020, as I was brewing over ideas of potential thesis ideas, I came across Multispecies Justice, and it just clicked. I loved how it incorporated interdisciplinary thought, the critical nature of the scholarship, and how it had a strong connection to my very own university. Most importantly however, I loved how it provided a sense of hope – that alternatives can be imagined and work towards, where justice can be experienced by human and more-than-human beings alike. With the mass environmental and ecological destruction of the modern human age, the consequences are catching up at an alarming rate. I believe the solution lies in a radical change in beliefs and practices, and recognise MSJ as contributing to this.
“Most importantly, I loved how [multispecies justice] provided a sense of hope – that alternatives can be imagined and work towards, where justice can be experienced by human and more-than-human beings alike.”
Why is this topic so important, and what do you ultimately hope your findings will contribute to society and its future?
The Anthropocene has become such a critical age in both human history and the history of the planet as a whole. The environmental issues which have developed over the recent times are becoming more intensive, with time passing to mend what damage has already been done. I believe a change in the fundamental understanding of human-nature relations needs to occur. And such change needs to present within the formal institutions and processes of the political program. The current silencing of the voices of more-than-human beings is leading to only further environmental destruction.
Through recognising and accepting more-than-human beings as political actors, a new pathway is paved for addressing the injustices and oppression they have experienced. A new age can emerge, where there is a focus on healing the damages done. There can be celebration of different ways of being, and different ways of knowing. A culture can be fostered where they is not only respect, but acceptance of difference. And such culture crosses not only the human-more-than-human divide, but the divides that exist within humanity. I hope my work contributes to the seedlings for change in which a future political system promotes collaboration with different voices in cocreating the world we share.
“A change in the fundamental understanding of human-nature relations needs to occur. And such change needs to present within the formal institutions and processes of the political program. The current silencing of the voices of more-than-human beings is leading to only further environmental destruction.”
What about the Sydney Environment Institute made you interested in completing an Honours Fellowship with us?
The opportunity to complete an Honours Fellowship with SEI is truly a dream come true. As a transdisciplinary hub, it has several interesting projects under its wings, particularly the Multispecies Justice project. And to be able to meet and collaborate with the academics of the institute would be such a rewarding experience, in providing insight on another level of higher education. The Fellowship aligned perfectly with my interests, and I look forward to what fruits it will bear this year.
Sam Norman is a 2021 Honours Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute. He holds a Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Advanced Studies, majoring in Politics and Philosophy, and is currently undertaking his Honours with the Department of Government and International Relations. Sam’s research interests include; analysis of how the Anthropocene promotes a specific mode of being human, exploring alternative ontologies of human-nature relations inspired by multispecies justice and indigenous philosophies, and reimagining how more-than-human beings can be recognised as political actors and active participants in political processes and institutions.