Member blog: Siobhan O’Sullivan

I did a traditional politics degree, with little to no nonhuman animal content. When I got to honours level I was told that I could write about ‘anything’. At that time I was very involved in animal protection politics. I decided that anything could stretch to animals. I wrote my honours thesis on nonhuman animals and private property. That went well so I decided to pursue my PhD and an academic career.

 At PhD stage I started to meet other animal studies scholars. For example, John Hadley was writing his PhD at the University of Sydney. Together we established a regular interdisciplinary reading group. This was the start of me finding my feet as an animal studies scholar and identifying a community of like-minded thinkers.

 One year into my PhD I learnt of a small animal studies conference taking place in Perth. The call for papers had closed. But I felt driven to attend, in search of ‘my people’. And they were there, in spades! That is where I met Yvette Watt and many other emerging animal studies scholars. That conference would eventually spawn the Australasian Animal Studies Association (AASA).

 My PhD was an examination of inconsistencies in animal welfare legislation. I also proposed a new way to conceptualise animal welfare laws, arguing that the equity principle, inherent to liberal democratic political systems, should be applied to animals. That argument would later form the basis of my monograph Animals, Equality and Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan 2011).

While my PhD was under examination I was appointed as a postdoc at the University of Melbourne. The research was focused on welfare-to-work. A far cry from animal welfare, but I had the research skills needed for the project. I took to welfare-to-work research like a duck to water! Since, I have had two research areas: animal protection and employment services. I continue to enjoy both fields and my new book Buying and Selling the Poor (Sydney University Press 2021) has just come out.

In 2015 I took up an ongoing position at UNSW in Sydney. Peter Chen was the first Sydney-based animal studies scholar I met. But I would soon start collaborating with Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and co-convening a reading group with Dinesh Wadiwel.

In August 2020 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The cancer has spread and I am chemo resistant. I am on a drug trial and I hope to live a little longer, but I will die from the disease before too long. In the time I have left I am dedicating myself to ovarian cancer education – did you know that it is the deadliest gynaecological cancer? It has a less than 25 per cent ten-year survival rate. That’s horrible compared to most other cancers. I am now a spokesperson for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.

I have also established an Animal Studies Prize with AASA, in the hope that we can further grow and celebrate animal studies scholarship, long after I am gone.

Bio: Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan is an Associate Professor in Social Policy with the University of New South Wales (UNSW).  She founded the regular podcast, Knowing Animals, on all things animal and ethics related. She recently co-edited The Political Turn in Animal Ethics, with Robert Garner, focusing on the political dimension of the debate about our treatment of nonhuman animals. She twitters @so_s and can be found on Instagram as siobhano_s. 

Siobhan O’Sullivan