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Understanding human-animal interspecies relationships

Understanding human-animal interspecies relationships

Living and raising her family beside the Nottawasaga River, along the spine of the Niagara Escarpment in Hockley Valley, with a varied assortment of feral, rescued, and wild beings, it is no wonder that Professor Leesa Fawcett has focused her personal and professional interests in human-animal studies, biological conservation and natural history, as well as environmental education and philosophy.

With a PhD in Human Ecology and an MES in Environmental Thought and Biological Conservation at York and a BSc Honours in Marine Biology and Oceanography at Guelph, Professor Fawcett pursued her interest in teaching and research on critical environmental pedagogies, political ecologies of interspecies relationships, environmental philosophy, experiential education and Indigenous knowledge, children and youth studies, and marine conservation.

In a recent article with FES PhD Alumnus Joshua Russell on Childhood Animalness: Relationality, Vulnerabilities, and Conviviality (2020), the study presents scholarship delving into children’s and animals’ subjective encounters and intersecting worldhoods as critical of more anthropocentric developmental psychology models. The field work makes various suggestions about the ethics that emerge from children’s embodied experiences with animals, including felt senses of vulnerability, death, and precarity. The study outlines potential pedagogical directions that encourage deeper reflections about the precariousness of childhood lives, lived differently and together, with other species.

One of Prof. Fawcett’s focus of study is on whales, oceans and climate change.

Professor Fawcett is also a co-investigator with Dr. Sue Ruddick (U of T) in a SSHRC Insight Grant on “Crossing Boundaries: Human-Wildlife Encounters in the Greater Toronto Area.” The project aims to enhance scholarly understanding of cities as wild  ‘transspecies’ spaces and strengthen interdisciplinary connections and expertise of faculty, students and community members on the subject; create and promote a network of academics and NGO’S involved in enhancement of cities as places for wildlife; and advance scholarly understanding of human-nature relationships.

Along with Professors Anna Zalik and Elizabeth Havice (UNC-Chapel Hill), Professor Fawcett also co-organized a SSHRC Connection workshop on “Changing contours of marine space and resource access” from which a series of videos were made publicly available to the broader public for knowledge sharing across organizations and communities engaged in, and affected by, activities on ocean frontiers.

Tapping into the participants’ expertise, “the pedagogical intent of the Ocean Frontiers short video series is to unite this interdisciplinary knowledge and make it more accessible to academic audiences and practitioners, which is essential to shaping policy and practice regarding ocean protection and sustainable use,” said Professor Fawcett. “Equipping and training the emerging generation of ocean specialists and policy-makers with interdisciplinary reference points is a crucial part of shaping these new policies,” she added.