Where the Wild Things Are

A/Prof. Wendy Steele1, Dr Ilan Wiesel2, Dr Cecily Maller1

1Centre for Urban Research, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia,

2School of Geography, Melbourne, Australia


In this paper we engage the twin concepts of ‘the stray’ and ‘the friend’ for developing empathetic imaginings and ethical practices in the city. We build on a politics of care for all species (human and non-human), and Lori Gruen’s (2015) notion of ‘entangled empathy’ to develop a trans-species ethic and mode of enquiry for cities. Critical theory, frameworks and methods challenge anthropocentrism and encourage us to leap into the unknown by shifting the boundaries used to define the anthropos and homo urbanis. This is about changing the basic unit of reference of what counts to be human, but also moving beyond the centrality of humans as the defining reference point for ethical action. We outline the benefits of an assemblage-method approach around diagramming and sketching as a pathway for developing trans-species ethics and empathy in cities. In this way new urban possibilities might be able to emerge; grounded in new stories; and ushering in new, more caring worlds.


Wendy Steele is an Associate professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning co-located in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University, Melbourne.


Multispecies Cities: Challenging anthropocentrism through more-than-human speculative fiction, public health and transdisciplinarity

Dr Christoph Rupprecht1

1Research Institute For Humanity And Nature, Kyoto, Japan


Cities are built entirely around human needs, including harnessing non-humans for ecosystem services in the form of green infrastructure. This anthropocentrism extends to the concept of sustainability itself and may lie at the roots of why urban sustainability initiatives are failing. Drawing on multispecies and more-than-human geographies, we develop a concept of multispecies sustainability and attempt to rethink cities through this lens. For this purpose, we present a proposal and call for collaboration for a 5-year project on cities of multispecies well-being. Specifically, the project looks at three different urban lifeworlds: mental (ideas of how cities ought to be), linked (people-animal-plant networks linked by internal and external microbiomes), and physical (co-inhabited built environment), examined through three work packages.

WP1 generates positive futures of multispecies cities with creative professionals. Planned outputs include a general audience fiction book series on sustainable futures and exhibitions. WP2 grounds WP1 futures by developing care-based guidelines for multispecies public health policy recommendations through co-research on the environment-microbiome-brain axis, based on a conceptual framework of multispecies public health & sustainability. WP3 experiments with WP1/2 futures across cities/sites through game-based participatory planning workshops featuring multispecies stakeholders, developing a multispecies transdisciplinarity method+toolkit.


Christoph D. D. Rupprecht is a Senior Researcher with the FEAST project at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto. He received his PhD in urban geography, planning and ecology from Griffith University in 2015. His work focuses on more-than-human approaches to sustainability, in particular around issues of urban planning and design, food, and agriculture. Recent endeavors include combining speculative literature and gaming with sustainability studies to overcome anthropocentrism and envision desirable degrowth futures.

Email: crupprecht@chikyu.ac.jp

Jugaad and informality as drivers of India’s cow slaughter economy

Dr Yamini Narayanan1

1Deakin University


India’s intriguing status as among the world’s largest milk producer, beef exporter, and one of the top leather producers – industries which are substantially sustained by the mass slaughter of bovines – implausibly coexists with its legislative prohibitions on cow killing. How is this scale of cow slaughter possible in a country that imposes  criminal penalties on the slaughter of cows, bulls and calves, and possession, consumption and sale of beef? India’s cow protection laws and politics sidestep the fact that dairying is also a slaughter industry. India has the largest ‘dairy’ herd in the world. To facilitate cow slaughter in a country where it is largely prohibited, this presentation argues that jugaad, a complex Indian sociological phenomenon of corruption and innovation, is vital in enabling the illegal slaughter of cows in the informal economy. Jugaad is enacted through ingenuous alterations to social processes and material products in informal spaces that are rendered exceptional to formal governance: (1) illicit transportation to slaughterhouses, and (2) intricate social contracts between stakeholders along this production line. Through these processes, the bovine body itself is transformed by way of jugaad from protected dairy cow to contraband beef cow.


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 racist, 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 D, Geoforum, Hypatia, South Asia, Society and Animals, and Sustainable Development.

Email: y.narayanan@deakin.edu.au

Donkeys and development in Malawi

Dr Max Kelly1

1Deakin University, , Australia


Despite a heavy reliance on draft animal power, donkeys are not traditional animals in Malawi. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 donkeys in Malawi, many descending from 300 donkeys imported in the late 1950s. Human donkey interactions are driven primarily by the contribution of donkeys to human labour, and livelihoods. The place of donkeys in the 21st century is increasingly precarious for a number of reasons, including burgeoning demand for donkey products (skins) globally, as well as their displacement in ‘modern’ society of the global north. However, they can play a pivotal role in livelihoods of those who depend on them for traction, transport, and less often, meat, and milk. Outside of their economic contributions, the complex interactions between donkeys and humans are largely untold.

This research explores and analyzes the complex role of working donkeys, in a specific context; Malawi. The research is qualitative, working with donkey owning communities in central Malawi to explore social, cultural, ecological, as well as the economic role of donkeys. The research contributes broadly to both a more evidence-based understanding of the role of working donkeys in development and contributes to debates around human-animal interactions and social and cultural values of working animals in Africa.


Max lectures in International and Community Development Studies at Deakin University, specialising in development policy, food security, food systems, and sustainability from local to international. She is an Agricultural Scientist, turned social scientist.  She is currently working on two main projects, critical analysis of the political economy of global development, and animals and ethics in development. She has just published a co-authored monograph on Foreign Aid in the age of Populism, and an edited volume on Women Researching Africa.  She has researched consulted and worked from farms to offices across the globe, with an ongoin passion for Malawi.

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