Roundtable: The non-human

climate crisis thinking logo - a statue immersed in dirt/sand with yellow text 'climate crisis thinking in the humanities and social sciences'

This event is part of the TORCH Climate Crisis Thinking in the Humanities and Social Sciences Network.

What does the “non-human” do for your discipline?

The roundtable invites seminar participants to consider the implications of the “non-human” for their discipline particularly in relation to any or all of the six themes that the network has laid out. The interdisciplinary discussion will benefit from the disparities of perceived relevance and irrelevance between each discipline.Climate crisis is among the factors that has recently led to an increased interest in the relevance of the “non-human” to the traditionally human-centred Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines. The term refers to what is not human, from animals, plants, and bacteria to material objects, minerals, AI, and robots, all of which have primarily belonged to the STEM disciplines. The idea of the “non-human” facilitates interdisciplinary thinking in the face of the crisis that impacts the lives of both humans and non-human species.

Yet, the “non-human” concurrently implies human as the absolute in one’s way of knowing. It demands Humanities and Social Sciences to undo humans that seemed so absolute. For example, do we understand humans in dichotomy to the non-human, as in Judeo-Christian epistemology? Humans as part of nonhuman, as in Buddhist epistemology? Or, even, human comprising of the non-human, as microbiologists may do? Moreover, who have been the humans at the centre of knowledge-making? Are the kinds of humans who have not been a significant focus less human? Undoing humans in relation to non-human demands us to decolonise the fundamental epistemic assumption that shaped our disciplinary research and teaching.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of thinking with the ‘non-human’, here is an example of how it can be done:

Peta Tait, 'Enveloping the Nonhuman: Australian Aboriginal Performance', Theatre Journal, 71.3  (2019), pp.347-363

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Climate Crisis Thinking in the Humanities and Social Sciences, TORCH Networks