Introducing OSEH Professor II: Thom van Dooren

Oslo School of Environmental Humanities is excited to welcome Thom van Dooren as a Professor II! He is an Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and the Sydney Environment Institute. From 2020 to 2022 he will collaborate with researchers and students on OSEH projects.

Snail, Leaf, Plant

Photo: Achatinella lila, courtesy of David Sischo

I’m excited to be joining the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH) as a Professor II from 2020 to 2022. Over this three-year period, I’ll be a visitor in Oslo for a few weeks each year and will be collaborating with OSEH staff and students on a range of projects, both in person and from a distance.

I am a field philosopher and storyteller. I’m currently an Associate Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2017-2021) in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney, Australia. My research and writing focus on the philosophical, ethical, cultural, and political issues that arise in the context of species extinctions and human entanglements with threatened species and places. These themes are explored in depth in my three most recent books: Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014), The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds (2019), and the co-edited collection Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017, with Deborah Bird Rose and Matthew Chrulew).

Image may contain: Photograph, Forehead, Black-and-white, Photography, Headgear.
My main focus at the moment is a range of projects centred on extinction and biodiversity conservation in Oceania. This work includes my first trade/popular book, tentatively titled A World in a Shell: Snail Stories for a Time of Extinctions. This book focuses on the many extinct and endangered land snails of Hawai'i. It tells stories that work to cultivate an appreciation of snails and the significance of their loss. These slimy little creatures are often largely overlooked in public discussions of our current extinction crisis. But snails have been particularly hard hit; and Hawai'i, which was once a land exceedingly rich in snails, has lost more than most. Many more species are right on the edge today. The book brings together biological and cultural research to tell stories that consider topics ranging from how the first snails made their way out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and what ecological roles they once played in their forest environments, to the prominent Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) understanding that snails sing in the forest at night. Hawai'i’s snails have even been mobilised by activists in their efforts to prevent the U.S. Army from further damaging Mākua Valley, a sacred site that was used by the military for live-fire training for decades. One of the central aims of the book is to explore how extinction is tangled up in larger processes of globalisation, colonisation, militarisation, and more, both in its causes and its profoundly unequal impacts. Ultimately, in telling thick stories about snails and their worlds, the book aims to add flesh to our sense of what is being lost with their extinction.

As part of this larger project I’m also working on a series of radio documentaries and a Living Archive of Extinction Stories from Oceania. Increasingly, my work is focused on the challenges and possibilities of public environmental humanities storytelling.

My first scheduled visit to OSEH will take place from 3-23 August 2020. During this period, amongst other things, I’ll be co-hosting an intensive workshop with Ursula Münster and Hugo Reinert called Unworlding and Reworlding: Extinction, Extraction, Emergence. The workshop is a collaboration with the Sydney Environment Institute and will focus on multispecies studies approaches to understanding and responding to processes of violence, loss, and damage – as well as their resistance.


For more information on me and my work please see

Published Feb. 13, 2020 8:54 AM - Last modified June 10, 2020 4:17 PM