Posthuman Literary and Cultural Studies Research Group

The Posthuman Literary and Cultural Studies Research Group at UNE brings together academic staff from a number of different sub-disciplines whose research critically explores the implications of posthumanism for understanding human and non-human subjects in comparative ecological perspectives.

Areas of focus

New piracies

Russell McDougall

The Age of Exploration that initiated the British, French and Spanish empires overlapped significantly with what many regard as the Golden Age of Piracy. The pirate, one might say, is the explorer's shadow, the illegitimate spirit of discovery. Postcolonial literary study has succeeded already in unsettling the grand narratives of European imperialism. But the new historical research introducing plants (and by implication animals) into those narratives has opened and complicated the field of study enormously. Further, the proliferation of "new piracies" in our own time — hydro-piracy, carbon piracy, geo- and bio-piracy, etc.— has given a contemporary urgency to our need to understand strategic deployments of the term across agriculture, mining, pharmacy, and many other domains. CI McDougall is at the forefront of the research into piracy and its representations. He has given five papers on different aspects of the subject already at international symposia and is working toward a monograph on the subject.

Comparative indigenous studies

Russell McDougall

The paradigms of indigeneity and exoticism produced in the aftermath of colonialism are multiple and diverse. For historical reasons as well as political purposes the deployment of "indigeneity" across the human world varies enormously. This has led to a number of confusions about what indigeneity is, and who its legitimate subscribers are. There is a growing body of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences devoted to clarifying and articulating human indigeneity. Its general conclusion is that, rather than being a stable category of identity, "indigeneity" takes on different meanings according to different external exigencies, performative contexts and political agendas. But comparative indigenous studies are rare, and even when the key terms are apparently ubiquitous, they are not necessarily "understood or deployed in the same way across ethnic groups, disciplines or national boundaries". Comparison across human and non-human domains is more rare still. But even in these non-human domains the meaning of the term varies across different disciplines and ecological frameworks. Indigeneity and non-indigeneity are increasingly key factors in debates not only about human rights, human migrancy and so on, but also about the environment. Yet the use of these core terms to articulate ecological concepts often ends in confused ideological debate that undermine efforts, for example, to manage parks and protect species.

Water Stories

Stephen Harris

The complex arrangements for the control and distribution of water in Australia today seem a long way from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century rural England. Yet the rhetoric and management of water in that distant green world have profoundly influenced not only how water is controlled in this semi-arid landscape, but also how the Australian national identity has been defined since British settlement. In Australia, as in many other colonised countries, historical traditions and philosophies of water management practiced in Europe were inappropriately transplanted, crystallizing in the cultural imaginary over time into the myths and beliefs that influenced, and continue to influence, both the cultural and physical hydrological landscape. Much of this was shaped by early attempts to represent water in an exercise of national self-invention and chronologizing against an alien and enigmatic landscape that appeared as historically and geographically out of time. Very little has changed over the last two hundred years, either in the role water plays in the Australian cultural imagination, or in water policy decisions. Stephen Harris and Louise Noble are currently working on two projects that map this history and its implications for water policy in Australia today. The first is a co-authored book length study titled, Australian Water Stories: Myths of a Dry Continent, and the second is a chapter in a multidisciplinary collaborative book length study with members of UNE's Water Research and Innovation Network titled, 'Reimagining Water Policy'.

Critical animal studies
Mourning the animal dead: Sentimentality and the care tradition in animal ethics

Jennifer McDonell

For whom is it proper to mourn? This project addresses a ubiquitous and largely occluded dimension of interspecies cultural history, representations of bereavement upon the loss of companion animals. Drawing on a range of writings from the nineteenth century onwards, research is directed towards a paradox at the heart of human responses towards the death of that most popular of domestic animals, the dog: humanisation and disposability. While many millions of healthy dogs are euthanised in pet shelters in western countries each year, the act of mourning for individual dogs is a profoundly conflicted experience for many bereaved subjects. My research into cross species companionship in nineteenth-century England suggests that the expression of grief by writers, in particular, upon the death of pets was not only routinely dismissed by their contemporaries as sentimental, as 'inordinate affection' (to use the title of a book on bereavement for dogs by composer and suffragist Ethel Smyth), but was often perceived to be a threat to 'legitimate' emotional, ethical, and political attachments to family, human, animals and nation. Attention to case-sensitive, situated accounts of mourning for another species discloses a more nuanced vocabulary of feeling as a resource for an ethics of care towards animals. Central to this investigation is the imperative to understand why the structure of feeling that came in the nineteenth-century to be identified as sentimentality was (and still is) used to devalue representational regimes which position animals as communicative agents who possess recognisable interests or evoke sympathetic identification. Finally the project seeks to test the idea that the kind of anthropomorphic sentimentality that turns pets into objects for human emotional consumption is a doubling of the instrumentalism that also allows them to die en masse, unmourned.

Representing animals

Jane O'Sullivan

Critical Animal Studies is a rapidly developing area of multi-/interdisciplinary research within the academy, and can be likened to the earlier emergence of Women's Studies, Postcolonial Studies and Indigenous Studies in its project of 'speaking for the voiceless'. J O'Sullivan is researching the representation and consumption of animals in literature, film, and other popular cultural texts. In 2011 she presented papers at the Global Animals conference at the University of Wollongong and at the 4th Biennial Australian Animal Studies Group Conference at Griffith University. In 2011 she was contracted to write a chapter for a forthcoming Rutgers University Press collection on cinematic representations of dogs, and has a creative non-fiction article under consideration for the inaugural issue of the Animal Studies Journal. Currently she is working on two papers on representations of animals in Australian film and commercial fiction.

Postmodern human/machine intersections

Cate Dowd

Research in the area of post-modern human/machine intersections including digital technology and Alan Turing's ideas with links to natural language and culture — including ecological concepts that suggest the simulation and competition between human and machine should follow humanistic ideas for digital machine representations, towards cultural outputs. These ideas include 21st century digital technology as a paradigm for comparative research with 19th century ideas, such as the resistance to change in technological advances, notably in the midlands of the UK, represented via diverse authorship and literature, and reflected in the recent exhibition in the British Library in the UK via the 'Wastelands to Wonderlands' exhibition.

Publishing pirates

Jeremy Fisher

Publishing Studies is a developing area of multi-/interdisciplinary research within the academy, and covers a range of areas. J Fisher is researching a number of aspects of Australian and global publishing. He presented a paper on the impact of educational publishing within the whole of the Australian industry at the Society for the History of Reading and Publishing at Brisbane in April 2011 and this is currently in press in Script and Print. He was asked to contribute a chapter on Australian pulp fiction to an edited collection in press at the University of Massachusetts Press and to address the National Society of Editors Conference in Sydney 2011 on matters relating to copyright. In July 2012 he presented a paper on the emergence of a gay press in Australia at the Literature and Censorship conference run by the Australasian Association for Literature in Canberra. Another interest is the dissemination of information through open source platforms that now is replacing the closed-journal model offered by traditional publishers, and changing too how we think of piracy. The Elseviers and Taylor & Francis's of the world are pirates in this context through their monopoly over intellectual property. This flow through into how information can be transmitted to and accessed in Third World contexts, and that then has an impact on environmental, health, and educational issues.