Professor Vicki Kirby

Professor
BA, Dip Ed, MA Hons Prelim. First Class (University of Sydney); PhD (University of California Santa Cruz)
School of Social Sciences

Contact

+61 (2) 9385 2408
+61 (2) 9385 1824
Room 148, Morven Brown
Kensington Campus
Fields: Philosophy not elsewhere classified, Other Studies in Human Society, Feminist Theory, Philosophy of Language, Poststructuralism
Tags: Bioethics, Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture, Social Ethics

Research

Vicki Kirby is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW. 

 

The motivating question behind Vicki’s research is the puzzle of the nature/culture, body/mind, body/technology division, because so many political and ethical decisions are configured in terms of this opposition. Vicki is also interested in ‘the language question’ - what is language, and how does the way we answer that question define the human and inaugurate the political?

 

Vicki’s fascination with origins and foundations, or what grounds an argument, has remained an enduring provocation in her work.  Drawing on a rich interdisciplinary tradition in Australian feminisms and critical theory more generally, she explores the sometimes hidden politics of everyday life.  Her particular interest is embodiment and matter, and she brings feminism and deconstruction into conversation in order to shift the terms of these inquiries.  We know that cultural meanings are biologically registered, producing symptoms and signs, but what ‘language’ enables these interior communications and how do they differ from a conventional notion of language? Can the nature/culture division be sustained if flesh is literate; if it calculates? Is the special status accorded the human considerably qualified if life’s animations are forms of reading and writing?

 

Investigating such questions, Vicki’s research explores the uncanny resonance between poststructural understandings of ‘the life of language’ and scientific evidence about ‘the language of life’. The international acclaim received by Telling Flesh: the substance of the corporeal (1997, Routledge), which explores the semiological capacities of flesh, is evidence of the unique and fertile provocations in this line of inquiry. Telling Flesh is a book of exceptional significance and merit… original… a brilliant philosophical critique” (Mutman: 1999). ‘Kirby takes herself and her readers on a trip where even Derrida only sometimes dares to go. As with all the best scholarship, or writing of any stripe… it keeps generating insights and wonders through multiple readings’ (Weinstone: 2000). Eleven reviews.

 

Judith Butler: Live Theory (2006, Continuum) again explores the question of materiality, language and the discursive, and offers a sustained criticism of one of the giants of contemporary feminist and political theory. The book illuminates how a surreptitious recuperation of the nature/culture division can inform work that actively eschews the opposition, and suggests how this division can be engaged differently. ‘Vicki Kirby’s presentation of Butler is… thoughtful and rigorous, generous yet insubordinate… The level of scholarship here is superior. The reader is witness to a stimulating dialogue between two talented scholars… Kirby offers many excellent criticisms of and questions about Butler’s ideas that warrant development elsewhere’ (Kachra: 2007). Five reviews.

(2011) Judith Butler: Pensamiento en Acción trans. Diego Luis Sanromán Peña, Barcelona, Edicions Bellaterra, pp. 208. 

Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (2011 Duke) consolidates the innovative trajectory of Kirby’s work.  How is scholarship in the humanities already substantively implicated in the sciences? What challenges do we confront if Derrida’s ‘no outside of text’ is read as ‘no outside of Nature’? The anonymous manuscript readers for Duke University Press confirm the book’s path-finding significance. Reader #1: ‘Vicki Kirby has developed a uniquely challenging and amplifying response to deconstruction as a means of offering new reflections on nature, embodiment, materialism, and science… There have been few Derrida commentators who have been able to combine an extreme intelligence about, attention and sensitivity to Derrida’s work, with this kind of extensive challenge to it’. Reader #2: ‘Kirby is one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. …a creative and original thinker who offers profound challenges to some of our most cherished beliefs. She is a scholar whose contributions are not only making a significant impact now, but promise to do so for some time to come’. 6 reviews.

Forthcoming (2017) Editor, What if Culture was Nature all Along? Edinburgh University Press forthcoming

 

Vicki was invited faculty at the Winter School: Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, Bern University in 2015, and an Erasmus Mundus Scholar at Utrecht University in 2013. She was Chief Investigator of an ARC Discovery Project Grant, ‘The Life of Language and the Language of Life’ (2006-2009) $120,000; guest edited a special issue of Australian Feminist Studies in 2008, and is currently working on a manuscript provisionally titled, Human Exceptionalism on the Line.  She has an international reputation in the fields of deconstruction, feminism and new materialism, and regularly receives invitations to keynote and take masterclasses.  Invitattions over the the last 5 years include: Ghent University; University of Turku Finland; Åbo Akademi University, Turku Finland; Maastricht University; Manchester University; Uppsala University, Sweden; La Trobe University; University of Copenhagen; Utrecht University; The University of Amsterdam; Yale University; Emory University; Duke University; Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin; Europa Universität,Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder; Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, Bern University;  Institute of Art and Architecture, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna; Sydney University.   

 

Vicki is currently a Founding Member of the Advisory Board Digital Semiotics Encyclopedia; Editorial Board, New Materialisms Series, Edinburgh University Press; Editorial Associate, Critical Posthumanisms; Advisory Board, Itineration: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Rhetoric, Media, and Culture; Advisory Panel, Wasteflow Project, Oxford University Centre for the Environment; Science Advisory Committee, Semiotica, filosofi, arte, letteratura, Athanor Book Series, Milan; Editorial Board Member: New Critical Humanities; Editorial Board Member: “Experimental Practices” Series, Brill; International Advisory BoardCatalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience.

Research Areas

Poststructuralism, feminist theory, posthumanism, new materialism, technology and science studies, biophilosophy

 

Current Research Projects

Vital Translations: how language, biology and physical matter are inextricably entangled in all processes of translation

Recent findings in the sciences challenge the belief that language is a strictly human achievement. As the material stuff of life appears to transform itself through translative processes, the received meanings of such notions as literacy and even agency have been extended. Consequently, the difference between culture and nature, information and substance, or even subject and object is increasingly unclear. This project will link research sites that destabilise the tenets of anthropocentrism. Can these findings help us to reconceive our place in Nature?

 

Postgraduate Research Supervision

Areas of Supervision

Animal studies and posthumanism; the ethics of care in a palliative setting; system theories and bio-informatics; re-reading the interface between the biological and social through the immunological body; the politics of entanglement; feminism, post-structural theory, political theory; poststructural approaches to the question of spirit; investigating embodiment: feminisms/queer theory, biological discourses; embodied subjectivities and negotiations of purity, Foucault's ontology of power.

                     

Postgraduate Research Completions last 10 years

  • Rebecca Oxley “Attending to fathers with postnatal depression: lived embodiment and bio-graphical systematicity” (2x1s) Awarded PhD June 2015, Best Thesis Prize in Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Ashley Barnwell “Living Truth: a reading in social and sociological hermeneutics.” (2x1s) Awarded PhD November 2014. 
  • Will Johncock “Time and transcendence: the corporeal conditions of time and social synchronisation” (2x1s) Awarded PhD June 2014. 
  • Florence Chiew, "Perceptual plasticity: ecology and the social brain" (2x1s) Awarded PhD 2013, First Place in School of Social Sciences
  • Michelle Jamieson "An investigation of allergy which examines the interface between the biological and social" (3x1s) Awarded PhD 2012.
  • Tamara Popowski, "Transduction, Semiosis, Différance: defining life at the limit" Awarded PhD 2011.
  • Noela Davis, "Material subjectivity: the performative entanglement of biology within sociality" Awarded PhD 2010.
  • Demelza Marlin, "The kenotic structure of Max Weber's the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: an interdisciplinary approach to secularization" Awarded PhD 2010.
  • Belinda Clayton, "Truth, meaning and representation: Questioning modes of analysis in interpretations of women’s alcohol use" Awarded PhD 2008.
  • Peta Hinton “To see the world in a grain of sand…Thinking Universality and Specificity for a Feminist Politics of Difference” Awarded PhD December, 2007
  • Olivia Harvey “Posthumanism and the Question of Technology” Awarded PhD April, 2005

Current Postgraduate Research Supervision

  • Jonny Talbot, PhD Sociology, The Maori Offender 
  • Jac Dalziell, PhD Sociology, Human/Animal
  • Holi Birman PhD Sociology, Ethics of Care in a Palliative Setting 

Honours Supervisions

  • Vicki has an impressive supervision record: of 27 Honours Students, 22 received Honours First Class, 5 received The University Medal, 9 received the Sol Encel Prize for the best thesis in Sociology.  

     

    Teaching

     Current teaching

    ARTS2875 Society and Desire

    ARTS3871 Forensic Sociology

    ARTS4267 Methodologies in the Social Sciences: Questions and Quandaries

     

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching: current classes - ARTS2875 Society and Desire; ARTS3871 Forensic Sociology; ARTS4267: Methodologies in the Social Sciences: Questions and Quandaries

Honours Students: 27 Honours students supervised: 22 received Hons Class 1; 9 received the Sol Encel Prize for the best thesis is Sociology; 5 received the University Medal.

Areas of Supervision: Animal studies and posthumanism; the Maori offender; the ethics of care in a palliative setting; system theories and bio-informatics; re-reading the interface between the biological and social through the immunological body; the politics of entanglement; feminism, post-structural theory, political theory; poststructural approaches to the question of spirit; investigating embodiment: feminisms/queer theory, biological discourses; embodied subjectivities and negotiations of purity, Foucault's ontology of power.

I currently supervise 3 PhD students, all with Postgraduate Awards.



Postgraduate Research Completions last 10 years

  • Rebecca Oxley “Attending to fathers with postnatal depression: lived embodiment and bio-graphical systematicity” (2x1s) Awarded PhD June 2015, Best Thesis Prize in Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Ashley Barnwell “Living Truth: a reading in social and sociological hermeneutics.” (2x1s) Awarded PhD November 2014. 
  • Will Johncock “Time and transcendence: the corporeal conditions of time and social synchronisation” (2x1s) Awarded PhD June 2014. 
  • Florence Chiew, "Perceptual plasticity: ecology and the social brain" (2x1s) Awarded PhD 2013, First Place in School of Social Sciences
  • Michelle Jamieson "An investigation of allergy which examines the interface between the biological and social" (3x1s) Awarded PhD 2012.
  • Tamara Popowski, "Transduction, Semiosis, Différance: defining life at the limit" Awarded PhD 2011.
  • Noela Davis, "Material subjectivity: the performative entanglement of biology within sociality" Awarded PhD 2010.
  • Demelza Marlin, "The kenotic structure of Max Weber's the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: an interdisciplinary approach to secularization" Awarded PhD 2010.
  • Belinda Clayton, "Truth, meaning and representation: Questioning modes of analysis in interpretations of women’s alcohol use" Awarded PhD 2008.
  • Peta Hinton “To see the world in a grain of sand…Thinking Universality and Specificity for a Feminist Politics of Difference” Awarded PhD December, 2007
  • Olivia Harvey “Posthumanism and the Question of Technology” Awarded PhD April, 2005

 

 

Professional contribution

Vicki was invited faculty at the Winter School: Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, Bern University in 2015, and an Erasmus Mundus Scholar at Utrecht University in 2013. She was Chief Investigator of an ARC Discovery Project Grant, ‘The Life of Language and the Language of Life’ (2006-2009) $120,000; guest edited a special issue of Australian Feminist Studies in 2008, and is currently working on a manuscript provisionally titled, Human Exceptionalism on the Line.  She has an international reputation in the fields of deconstruction, feminism and new materialism, and regularly receives invitations to keynote and take masterclasses.  Invitattions over the the last 5 years include: Ghent University; University of Turku Finland; Åbo Akademi University, Turku Finland; Maastricht University; Manchester University; Uppsala University, Sweden; La Trobe University; University of Copenhagen; Utrecht University; The University of Amsterdam; Yale University; Emory University; Duke University; Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin; Europa Universität,Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder; Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, Bern University;  Institute of Art and Architecture, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna; Sydney University.   

 

Affiliations and membership

Current Editorial and Advisory Boards 

Vicki is currently a Founding Member of the Advisory Board Digital Semiotics Encyclopedia; Editorial Board, New Materialisms Series, Edinburgh University Press; Editorial Associate, Critical Posthumanisms; Advisory Board, Itineration: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Rhetoric, Media, and Culture; Advisory Panel, Wasteflow Project, Oxford University Centre for the Environment; Science Advisory Committee, Semiotica, filosofi, arte, letteratura, Athanor Book Series, Milan; Editorial Board Member: New Critical Humanities; Editorial Board Member: “Experimental Practices” Series, Brill; International Advisory Board: Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience.