Extinction is one of the great challenges of our times. As part of a new doctoral training programme, hosted at the University of Leeds, we are offering full funding and an exciting interdisciplinary training programme for PhD students to work on topics relating to extinction and its meanings, histories and legacies. Working both individually and collaboratively, students will have the opportunity to explore the rich connections between the biological, cultural and social meanings of the global extinction crisis, and to clarify the responses and impacts that extinction is currently having upon societies and cultures across the world.
The programme will take in six to seven doctoral researchers a year over each of its three years, with the first intake in October 2021.
The aim of the programme is to create a lasting platform for future training in Extinction Studies that provides substantial research and employment opportunities for doctoral researchers, both in the UK and elsewhere.
Extinction Studies, as it is currently conceived, tends to be either biologically or socially/ culturally oriented; this programmes seeks to revolutionize the field by combining elements of both. The main question we set out to ask is what extinction means – biologically, culturally, socially – in contemporary contexts of global crisis: the decline of species, the death of languages, the seemingly inexorable deterioration of already vulnerable human societies and natural ecosystems. Further questions arise from this. What is the future of life in a time of mass extinctions? What is our place in, and what are our obligations to, a more-than-human world: one that we humans share with a multitude of other species whose lives are inextricably entangled with our own? What are the different meanings of extinction in different social and ecological contexts, and what stories and narratives, as well as everyday material practices, are needed to cope with the unprecedented scale of loss? Can extinction be forestalled, or even reversed, and what are the consequences of such measures? What legacies does extinction leave us with, and what does it tell us about the temporal processes – generational change, the death-life continuum – that it catastrophically interrupts?
Extinction Studies is a field that by definition crosses conventional disciplinary boundaries, combining the work of both arts- and science-based researchers, while it is also one that by definition attracts the young, on whose own futures the future health and biodiversity of the planet depend. It would be mistaken, however, to see Extinction Studies as a field that is directed inexorably towards the future. On the contrary, it requires a greater understanding of the past or, better, multiple pasts: the histories that underlie human encounters with (other) animals; the histories that underscore particular nations’ engagements with industrial modernity, or particular peoples’ understandings of the natural world; the still longer histories that inform, and indeed precede, human beings’ presence on Earth. In this and other ways, Extinction Studies is not just a study of loss, or of the many different ways that we might seek in future to counteract it; it is a study of temporal processes, not least the grand narrative of evolution itself. Extinction Studies, in sum, is an inclusive field even as its subjects are cruelly excluded from the future; and it is a field that demands sharpened historical awareness even as it subjects are prematurely consigned to the past. Finally, it is a field that actively requires the bringing together of knowledge from different places, different times, and different research areas – a field that is as alive as it gets even as its subjects have reached the narrative endpoint of their lives.
Disciplines in the programme might include biology, communication and media, ecology, environmental social science, geography, history, linguistics, literary studies, palaeontology, philosophy, political science, religious studies and sociology, which are also the combined disciplines represented by members of the core supervision group. Interdisciplinary research being embedded within the programme, students will be expected to work across at least two different disciplines, supported by co-supervisors chosen from different disciplinary backgrounds.
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