Researching Ethically With (Other) Animals in the Humanities and Social Sciences

13th September 2019, Deakin Downtown

bird animal ethics.jpeg



Registration and welcome


Dr Yamini Narayanan (Deakin University)

‘Witnessing’ as ethical protocol for researching (other) animals


Dr Yvette Watt (University of Tasmania)

Animals, Art, Ethics and Academia


Dr Rowena Lennox (University of Technology, Sydney)

Conditions and protocols for ethical research with (other) animals from a humanities perspective


Morning tea


Group/Individual Presentations

Dr Gina Moore (RMIT University) and team:

The “animals & the creative arts” manifesto project

 Dr Max Kelly (Deakin University):

Researching Animal Welfare in Development Spaces

 Paul Podosky (University of Melbourne): Animals Made Absent: Research Protocols, Objectification, and the Absent Referent

Dr Susan Pyke (University of Melbourne):  Staying with the trouble of snakes: writ(h)ing through an ethic of (no)care

Dr Stanislav Roudavski and Dan Parker (University of Melbourne): Ethics of Interspecies Design




Group Discussion


Afternoon tea


Prof Larry Carbone (University of California, San Francisco) Responsibility for animal harms in ethics reviews and research publications




Dinner (please join us if you can make it) - Location TBA

 Speaker abstracts and bios

Prof Larry Carbone (University of California, San Francisco): Responsibility for animal harms in ethics reviews and research publications

 Research is a cycle, in which publication that caps one research project informs, inspires and models for what others in the field will do. I encourage full reporting of animal information in all papers describing nonhuman animal studies, both to allow reviewers to assess the value and acceptability of manuscripts, and to establish attention to nonhumans’ well-being in any enterprise that impinges on their lives. Researchers should report their efforts to study animals in ways that minimize risk, interventions they have taken if they encountered harms to animals, and parameters of their ethical review (often, both a human subjects and an animal subjects review) including what humans consented to the study on the animals’ behalf. Multiple ethics panel perspectives (always humans only, possibly comprising veterinarians, applied ethologists, activists-protectionists, critical studies scholars and others) can work together to best evaluate animal welfare as perceived by the nonhuman animal her/himself. 

 Prof Larry Carbone is a veterinarian who has worked with animals and animal oversight committees for many years, as well as some work on my university’s Human Subjects Committee. My PhD is in Science and Technology Studies, with dissertation and 2004 book (What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare Policy) on competing voices to shape animal policies, all vying to have the best knowledge of animal welfare. My special focus is on how what [we think] we know about nonhuman animals and what they want shapes our individual relations with them, and our public policies about them.


Dr Max Kelly (Deakin University): Researching Animal Welfare in Development Spaces

 This paper explores experiences of researching animal welfare, as understood, and practiced within development institutions in the context of Malawi in Southern Africa.  Issues of research design, research findings, and impact of research are considered within the frame of ethical research.  The paper considers fundamental principles of both human and animal research ethics, given the complicating context of human poverty and development, which provides a complex environment for framing of ethical research.  The paper considers what can be drawn from this field research experience that may inform future practice, through an analysis of what ethical research may look like (or may not look like) in this space.

Dr Max Kelly is a Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development Studies at Deakin University. Her areas of expertise include international and community development policy and practice. She has a sectoral focus in agriculture, food security, and sustainability at local, national and international levels, including a focus on animals in international development, exploring issues of livestock and animal welfare, as well as the role of working equids in development.


Dr Rowena Lennox (University of Technology, Sydney): Conditions and protocols for ethical research with (other) animals from a humanities perspective

 In 2014 I started a doctorate of creative arts to write a creative non-fiction book about emotional relationships between people and dingoes. During the first year I applied for human ethics approval to interview people about dingoes and animal ethics approval to observe dingoes in captivity and, if possible, in the wild. Through first-hand, unmediated observations I aimed to see dingoes clearly, and to learn more about their social interactions and life cycles, in order to produce writing that is immediate and engaging for a general audience.

 On my UTS Animal Care and Ethics Committee (ACEC) application I explained that my research was motivated by controversies surrounding human attitudes toward and treatment of dingoes and asks: ‘Why do humans kill other living things on a mass scale? Who are dingoes? How do we know them?’ In hindsight it is clear that I was not well equipped to apply for Animal Ethics approval and, in turn, the UTS ACEC must have been flummoxed by my application.

 In this talk I outline the process I went through to, eventually, gain Animal Ethics approval. My Animal Ethics application process highlighted differences in orientation to the instrumentality of animals used in ‘field experiments’ and divergent ideas about consent and animal agency. These mismatches point to some of the regulatory lacunae that we might address when thinking about the conditions and protocols for ethically oriented research towards animal subjects in the humanities and social sciences.

Dr Rowena Lennox is an adjunct fellow at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney and a co-investigator with Professor Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, at the University of Wollongong, on research into the use of dingoes implanted with poison 1080 capsules to eradicate goats from Pelorus Island in Queensland. Rowena's writing is widely published, including in Griffith Review, Meanjin and Southerly. Her essay ‘Incessant: dingoes and waves of contact on K’gari’ appears in Gillian Dooley and Danielle Clode, eds, The First Wave: exploring early coastal contact history in Australia (Wakefield Press, 2019) and her first book, Fighting Spirit of East Timor: the life of Martinho da Costa Lopes (Pluto/Zed, 2000), won a NSW Premier’s History Award in 2001. Her second book, Bold: ingenious dingoes of K’gari, is forthcoming with Sydney University Press in 2020.


Dr Gina Moore (RMIT University) and team: The “animals & the creative arts” manifesto project

 This presentation will introduce the “animals & the creative arts” manifesto project and detail some of the issues of concern around the use and representation of animals in the creative arts that is driving the manifesto’s development. More-than-human animals have been a popular subject in the creative arts since the beginning of human history. In addition to representing (absent) animals in visual arts, literature and performance, there are deeply problematic examples of creative practitioners, especially visual artists, using physical animal bodies (alive or dead) in their works. In order to encourage ethical practice among creative practitioners and curators, regulatory and guideline documents have been developed by groups and organisations such as Minding Animals International, The American College Art Association, and the Justice for Animals Art Guild. However, these guidelines appear to have gained little traction to date, which may reflect a lack of awareness of their existence, or a reactionary response based on a perception that such guidelines limit creative expression. 

 This presentation reports on the “Animals in Creative Art Manifesto”, a work in progress which aims to do the work of developing and offering guidelines differently, in a form that speaks to the creative arts and can act as a practical document for arts practitioners. Many historical manifestos are blatantly anthropocentric, with a tone that is strident, authoritative and prohibitive/negative. By contrast, our manifesto aims to adopt a post-anthropocentric, multispecies, viewpoint that unravels notions of artistic entitlement, articulates a politic of solidarity and care and strives to be polyvocal, provocative, inclusive and generative.

 Dr Gina Moore is a visual artist and a lecturer in the Animation program at RMIT University. She has a background in fine arts (drawing, painting and sculpture) and worked for fifteen years as a 3D animator in the advertising industry. Her recently completed PhD research explores a “conversational” approach to 3D computer animation and her current research includes creating virtual reality experiences.



Dr Yamini Narayanan: ‘Witnessing’ as ethical protocol for researching (other) animals

 A key classification for the study of (other) living animals in current animal ethics protocols in Australian academia (and elsewhere) that is most pertinent to studies in the humanities and the social sciences, is “observation” of animals in a range of ‘natural’ and ‘controlled’ settings. ‘Observation’ of animal behaviours is intended to introduce ‘rationality’ and ‘objectivity’ in analyses. This paper argues however, that ‘observational’ studies, abstract highly cognitive, sentient beings; compound their objectification as resources; and reinforce the vast power differentials between human researcher, and animal abject/object. In contrast, ethical research within human communities aims to be consciously vigilant about maximally evening power relations between the researcher and researched, and affording protections and accountability to particularly vulnerable subjects (children, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, racial and gendered minorities, among others). This paper argues that research that is ethical for the animals must necessarily be political, with an explicit strategy to navigate broader ethical human-to-animal relations itself, based on the non-commodification of the other animal. To this end, the paper proposes ‘witnessing’ as conceptual and ethical practice to subjectify other animals – as individuals, rather than (only) species, and as also severely marginalised and historically oppressed communities deserving of protections during, and after the research project. As a starting point, the paper will outline some (human) researcher obligations as necessary conditions of ‘witnessing’ other animals in the field.

 Dr Yamini Narayanan is Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University, Melbourne. Her work explores the ways in which (other) animals are instrumentalised in sectarian, casteist and even fascist ideologies in India. Yamini’s research is supported by two Australian Research Council grants. Yamini’s work on animals, race, and development has been published in leading journals including Environment and Planning A, Environment and Planning D, Geoforum, Hypatia, South Asia, Society and Animals, and Sustainable Development. Yamini is founding convenor of the Deakin Critical Animal Studies Network. She is a lifelong Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, an honour that is conferred through nomination or invitation only.


Paul Podosky (University of Melbourne): Animals Made Absent: Research Protocols, Objectification, and the Absent Referent

 The world is unjust, and this is partly due to the language that undergirds oppressive behaviour. One sense in which language performs this role is through what Carol J. Adams (1990) calls the absent referent. This occurs when our language masks the moral qualities of non-human animals so that we may engage with them qua meat. I suggest that we can extend this notion of the absent referent to non-human animals in research: We mask the moral qualities of non-human animals so that may engage with them qua test-subjects. The lesson is that in assessing the permissibility of research on non-human animals, and determining the right policies, we must pay close attention to our representational practices.

 Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Melbourne. His research concerns the role that language and concepts play in masking injustices and reinforcing social hierarchies. His work can be found in Ergo, Inquiry, Journal of Animal Ethics and more. 


 Dr Susan Pyke (University of Melbourne):  Staying with the trouble of snakes: writ(h)ing through an ethic of (no)care

 In a project that has been underway for some years now, I have been writing with and of snakes, with an increasing focus on an individual tiger snake that shares a space I inhabit in the Stony Rises. I have come to call this person Selena. To date, I have interrogated my act of writing in philosophical terms. Can I write of this engagement in a way that Lori Gruen would accept as not being arrogantly anthropomorphic? And to what extent does my writing risk the harms of extractive thinking outlined by Macarena Gómez-Barris? Now I am being challenged to think about my work in a different way. In the terms of this seminar, does my work need to consider the requirements of an Animal Ethics Committee? And, if not, how ethical is that? There is another closely related question. If I am to continue participating in the development of a Manifesto that deals with the use of animals in the creative arts, what exactly are my terms of use when it comes to writing with/on/about Selena?

Dr Susan Pyke teaches indigenous studies, creative writing and literature at the University of Melbourne. Her recent monograph, Animal Visions, explores the political potential in posthumanist dream writing (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). She is now writing her way around the tiger snakes of Djargurd wurrung country. Other works focused on cross-species relations include a lyrical essay on snake citizenship (in The Materiality of Love Routledge 2017); a literary analysis of violence against people, horses and dogs in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (in Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture, Palgrave Macmillan 2017); an analysis of the ethics in animal advocates’ use of drones (with Claire McCausland and Siobhan O’Sullivan, in Animal Studies Journal 2018); a reading of sublimity and cross-species metamorphosis in contemporary literature (in TEXT, 2017); a consideration of divinity and the literary avian (in Otherness, 2016); and a personal essay about going vegan in the wake of a dairy farming childhood (in Southerly, 2013). More details on these and other publications can be found at Sue twitters as @suehallpyke and blogs at   


Stanislav Roudavski & Dan Parker (Deep Design Lab, The University of Melbourne): Ethics of Interspecies Design

 This presentation considers the ethics of interspecies design. Its primary example is the project that designs and installs prosthetic habitats for powerful owls (Ninox strenua). This project requires collection of information about owls and humans. It then aims to change the habits of human and nonhuman stakeholders. The ethical challenges of such design will be increasingly evident in the context of continuing urbanisation combined with efforts to protect biodiversity. For example, observations of birds in preparation for designing can disrupt their behaviour and reproduction. The addition of artificial hollows can affect the distribution of birds and their ecosystems. Such changes can create ecological traps that attract habitation but result in ill health and heightened mortality. Artificial provisions can lead to dependence on human support without long-term guarantees. If human priorities change, nonhuman individuals or groups can suffer or perish. Successful reintroduction of wild species into human settlements can and does lead to conflicts between human and nonhuman populations due to incompatible cultures, practical inconveniences or concerns about hygiene and safety. In most cases, designers cannot reliably predict the suitability of geometries, materials or sites. Testing design prototypes in the field can result in damage to birds, trees and humans. This list could continue. To conclude, any managerial interventions into the lives of nonhumans impact webs of complex and dynamic relationships. The nature of these relationships is never completely known, and the outcomes of interventions are never completely predictable. The unfolding environmental crisis impels action, but its potential outcomes involve risk and require ethical consideration.

 Dr Stanislav Roudavski is an academic at the University of Melbourne where he explores intersections of ecology, technology, art, design and architecture with a particular focus on more-than-human design. He experiments with design fiction and conceptual designing; parametric and generative processes; emergence and self-organization; complex geometries and digital fabrication; virtual and augmented environments; place-making; and practice-based research methodologies. His work has been disseminated through multiple academic publications and international exhibitions.

 Dan Parker is a designer and researcher at the University of Melbourne. Dan’s research interests include generative and parametric design, digital fabrication, mixed reality, nonhuman perspectives, geographical information systems and interdisciplinary collaboration. Dan’s previous studies have explored wearable art, furniture, mixed-use architecture, pavilion design and installations. His work has been shown at multiple exhibitions and distinguished through awards and in competitions.


Dr Yvette Watt (University of Tasmania): Animals, Art, Ethics and Academia

 In recent years a number of artists have come to public attention for their artworks that involve the harming and/or killing of animals. Most of these have taken place outside of academia and so have not been subject to any kind of institutional ethics procedures. However, given the lack of clarity around ethics requirements beyond those covered by the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes it is hard to determine whether artworks such as these would require institutional ethics approval or not. However, while ethics committees might in this context be seen to potentially protect animals from harm, a huge number of animals continue to be killed or harmed in the name of research. This raises complex questions around how the categorisation of animals and the discipline base of the researcher affects the kind of institutional protection they are subject to. Further, as an artist with activist imperatives to my own artwork institutional expectations have impacted how I have undertaken some projects, and so as with many researchers, I am grappling with the paradox of wanting to ensure animals are protected from harm, while also concerned about the application of ethics processes and procedures, which can at times seem overly restrictive and onerous.

This presentation will consider the ethical obligations artists and institutions have toward animals, and the consequences of inconsistent application of such ethical considerations for both animals and artists. It will discuss guidelines such as the Minding Animals Curatorial Guidelines for Animals in Exhibitions, and the American College Art Association Statement of Principles and Suggested Considerations on The Use of Animal Subjects in Art, as examples of practical guides on ethical use of animals for artists, suggesting that these may be useful in developing appropriate ethics approval processes for artists working within the University sector.


Dr Yvette Watt is Head of Painting at the School of Creative Arts & Media, University of Tasmania. Yvette was a founding member of the Australasian Animal Studies Association and is a current committee member of Minding Animals International.

 Yvette is a co-editor of and contributor to Considering Animals: Contemporary Studies in Human-Animal Relations (Ashgate, 2011). Other publications include “Duck Lake: art meets activism in an anti-hide, anti-bloke, antidote to duck shooting.” In Animaladies, F. Probyn-Rapsey and L. Gruen (eds), (Bloomsbury 2018); “Down on the Farm: Why do Artists Avoid Farm Animals as Subject Matter?”, in Meat Cultures, A. Potts (ed), Brill (2016); ‘Animal Factories: Exposing Sites of Capture’, in Captured: Animals Within Culture, M. Boyd, (ed), (Palgrave McMillan, 2014) and ‘Artists, Animals and Ethics’, in Antennae: the journal of nature in culture, (issue 19, 2011).

Watt’s art practice spans 30 years and her artwork is heavily informed by her background as an activist.