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Gay Hawkins: Making animals public – the ABC and televisual animality

Professor Gay Hawkins

Institute for Culture and Society
Western Sydney University

This paper draws on a major research project done in partnership with the ABC investigating their animal archive. While the project began as an analysis of the emergence and demise of the Natural History Unit, it ended up as an exploration of how the existential realities of animals interacted with televisual processes.

Animals, it turned out, were a lot more interesting than the institutional history of the ABC. Three key questions drive the paper: how did animals practically get to be on the ABC; how did the ecologies of television provoke particular modes of being or ontologies for these animals; and how did these animals call publics into being?

Theoretically the paper steers a course away from media studies’ analyses of wildlife TV which suffer from a chronic case of ‘simulation and its discontents’ (Bousé, 2000). This discontent emerges in the tension between acknowledging the highly constructed nature of media animals whilst also yearning for unmediated animals true to their preformed or essential being. In order to get beyond this real/unreal impasse the paper opens up a conversation between science and technology studies and screen theory.

This makes it possible to investigate how animals are made real in a televisual ecology, how the relations between reality and realism are configured in this context and with what effects. The focus is not so much on animal representations or critique but animal performances and their political implications. The ABC’s Natural History unit made animals real and public in very particular ways. In letting these animals loose in the world, it activated a range of new human animal encounters, some of them provocative and some of them very disturbing.


Gay Hawkins is a research professor in social and cultural theory at the Institute for Culture and Society, at Western Sydney University. She has also taught media studies at UNSW and been the director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland.

She researches in the areas of materiality, political processes, media, and environmental humanities.

Her most recent book was Plastic Water: the social and material life of bottled water co-authored with Kane Race and Emily Potter (MIT, 2015). She is currently finishing a book with Dr Ben Dibley called Making Animals Public: the ABC and televisual animality.

Date Monday, 15 October 2018
Time 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Audience Public
Event Category Research Events
Event Type
DepartmentMedia, Film and Communication
LocationMoot Court, Richardson Building
Contact NameDr Hugh Slotten

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