Research Projects

Below you will find a list of current major research projects and collaborations. For a list of current and past digital projects/outputs, see this page.

Wild Lives
Grounded in ethnographic, historical, and philosophical literatures and approaches, this project is exploring the social and ethical dimensions of a growing field of biological research that seeks to achieve conservation outcomes by altering animal behaviours in domains that range from predation and migration to reproduction. I am asking how scientists, diverse animals, and local human communities are adaptively learning to relate to one another, to make sense of one another, and hopefully to survive with one another.

PIs: Thom van Dooren
Seed Funding: The University of Sydney (SOAR Prize 2022-23); Humboldt Research Award

Afterlives: More-than-human burial stories
Recent decades have seen a host of new approaches to taking care of the bodies of the dead: from aquamation (dissolution in water) to promession (freeze drying and shattering), and even cryogenic preservation. Meanwhile, a variety of older approaches are being reinvented, from green cremations and exposure (‘sky burial’), to eco-burials—perhaps even with a ‘mushroom burial suit’. This project attends to these diverse ‘deathscapes’, exploring these and other funerary practices with a particular focus on their always more-than-human possibilities. Of central interest in this context is the host of environmental consequences of particular deathly practices: from carbon emissions and the circulations of various toxins and pathogens, to associated modes of land use and habitat disruption. In taking up these themes, this project pays particular attention to the diverse nonhumans involved and caught up here, from scavengers and detritovores to the creatures making their homes in cemeteries. At its core, the project explores shifting scientific understandings of the ways in which bodies “come apart” after death, and how it is that they (and their toxic residues) travel through soil, water, atmospheres, and ecosystems. These are understandings taking shape at the intersection between numerous fields of research, from anatomy to atmospheric science, ecology to the careful forensic studies of decomposition conducted at ‘body farms’ around the world. Alongside these material reconfigurations, this project also attends to the understandings, values, and imaginaries — of human life, of other species, of broader ecologies — that animate and emerge out of funerary practices: from efforts to thaw and resurrect (some) human beings, to a desire to reposition our bodies as a source of nourishment for others. With a particular focus on the period from WW2, the project explores how environmental movements and associated ecological sciences have interacted with an emerging funerary industry as well as ongoing efforts to challenge dominant practices. Ultimately, this project is grounded in the understanding that these questions matter for a host of reasons: in more and less obvious and consequential ways, death practices reshape the web of life. Of course, taking the afterlives of human bodies seriously matters for our ability to act responsibility in this difficult space, both individually and collectively. But this project aims also to explore how modes of relating to and caring for the dead—of cultivating an ‘arts of dying’ grounded in the insights and challenges of our current time—might open up an important opportunity to rethink and remake possibilities for human life on a wounded planet.

PIs: Thom van Dooren
Funding: Humboldt Research Award

Narrative Ecologies of Warragamba Dam
This interdisciplinary environmental humanities project focuses on the proposed raising of the Warragamba Dam wall to explore the role of narrative in analysing and responding to socio-environmental controversies. It aims to develop new resources for enhancing community understanding and involvement in these complex issues, utilising narrative to enable responses that are creative, inclusive, and just.

PIs: Thom van Dooren, Emily O’Gorman, Stephen Muecke, Grace Karskens, Matthew Kearnes, Natalie Osborne, Peter Minter
Funding: Australian Research Council (Discovery Project 2022-2025)

Living on the Edge: Caring for Australia’s Threatened Places
This project explores eight ecological communities from across the continent. The project considers what these places are like, why they matter and how we can protect and regenerate them. Each is a vibrant land and waterscape, home to unique plants and animals. Each is threatened by habitat loss, invasive species, resource extraction, pollution and climate change. The project brings together cultural researchers, writers, curators, traditional custodians and artists, as well as policy-makers, scientists and community conservationists, to share knowledge and explore ideas about how best to care for these threatened places. The multi-year project will produce an online exhibition, events, creative commissions and education resources.

PIs: Kirsten Wehner, Thom van Dooren, and Cameron Muir
Funding and Partners: Sydney Environment Institute, National Museum of Australia, James Fairfax Foundation.

The Social Animals Collaboratory
A collaboration focused on the histories and futures of the social as an inherently multispecies achievement. At present we are working towards a series of publications and an exhibition at the Chau Chak Wing Museum (in collaboration with Zoë Sadokierski and Andrew Burrell).

PIs: Julia Kindt and Thom van Dooren
Funding: Australian Research Council (Future Fellowship 2017-2022) and The University of Sydney