Counter Narratives


Kathleen Birrell, McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow


Siri Hayes, The Southern skies all a swirl 2016 (produced for the CLIMARTE poster project 2016).

This project considers the universalising imperatives of international climate change law, and the constitutive relation of this law to other laws – specifically, to the juridical, political and cultural narratives of climate change emanating from local and Indigenous communities. Now broadly conceived as an object of global discourse, governance and law, the impending catastrophe of climate change is generative of a particularly global narrative. Imagining climate change, however, and its historical, epistemological, sociocultural and regulatory dimensions, also requires an engagement with local and, frequently, Indigenous narratives. This engagement, moreover, reveals not the habitual subordination of the local to the global, but the generative resistance of the local, and its constitutive relation to the global.

This project considers apparently competing, yet mutually constitutive, narratives of climate change: those concerned with the global imperatives of international climate change governance now instrumentalised in international climate change law, which arguably extend to the ‘eco-discipline’ of local and Indigenous communities, and those concerned with the possibility of resistance to such governance and the articulation of alternative ontologies and epistemologies. In so doing, it considers Indigenous and local peoples as both subject to and subjects of global climate change governance and modern international rights discourses, yet as resistant rights bearers and storytellers.

In the context of contemporary critiques of the neoliberal and neocolonial biases of international human rights regimes, it particularly considers a recent ‘critical redemption’ of human rights and the potential difficulties of this redemptive move, and the capacity for local communities to articulate resistance to global climate change governance from within the language of rights. This analysis also extends to a reading of aesthetic representations of climate change, and an emergent ‘eco-cosmopolitanism’ in accordance with which international climate change law might be (re)imagined.





We invite you to join a new interdisciplinary, cross-institutional reading group, meeting fortnightly, focused on intersections and encounters between laws and the humanities in the context of the ‘Anthropocene epoch’.

We will consider:

  • narratives of climate change – juridical, literary, aesthetic
  • encounters between laws, scholarly disciplines, human and non-human species
  • critical environmental law, the anthropocentric/ecocentric binary
  • global rhetoric and imaginaries in place
  • political subjectivity, activism and resilience discourses in the context of ‘catastrophic imaginaries’
  • rights language and discourses in the ‘Anthropocene’

Our first reading group session will begin on Wednesday 27th February 2019, in meeting room 831, with reading groups to take place on every second Wednesday.  Our final reading group will be on Wednesday 3rd July 2019.  A schedule of proposed readings appears below.

Please join us!  Feel free to bring your lunch along.  Tea and coffee will be provided.  Please send any queries to Dr Kathleen Birrell at

Reading Group schedule - Semester 2

Reading Group schedule - Semester 1

Dr Kathleen Birrell

McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow

Melbourne Law School