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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pics and videos from Langedrag

I am in the process of making available pics and videos from Langedrag mountain farm and wildlife park. Unfortunately I've encountered some technical problems, not least due to poorly-functioning, low-performance Blogspot (essa porra não functiona...). Pics, therefore, will have to wait for a little.
Videos are in the process of being uploaded to You Tube (MrMortenTonnessen's channel).

Application for research project 2011-2016

I am involved in an application for the prospective research project "Environmental Semiotics: Theory and applications in changing culture and environment". Timo Maran is the project's Principal Investigator and head. Through the project, which would span over the years 2011-2016 (until I'm 40...), I would have a research position (full work load), with the title 'Extraordinary researcher'. Other scholars involved include Jelena Grigorjeva, Kati Lindström, Riin Magnus, Ene-Reet Soovik, Renata Sõukand and Kadri Tüür.
If the application proves successful, it will imply that I establish ties to the University of Tartu for the years after I have completed my PhD (beyond my obligations partaking in the research project Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations, until 2012).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Summary report from Polar Zoo available online

Last week I finished my summary report after my field trip (in March) to Polar Zoo in Bardufoss, Northern Norway (cf. previous posts, including pictures and links to videos). The 23pp work paper has now been uploaded to Scribd.
1. Factual questions (and questions to the human caretakers)
2. The wolves' interaction among themselves
3. The confinement
4. The wolves and other animals
5. Wolf senses
6. The wolves and their caretakers
7. The wolves and the visitors to the zoo
8. The wolves and me

Acknowledged in David Abram's 'Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology'

Today I received my copy of David Abram's long awaited Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. At Amazon it has now climbed to no. 2.801 of the millions of books on offer - it is right now ranked as no. 1 in 'Phenomenology', no. 3 in 'Epistemology' and no. 7 in 'Ecology'.

I am honored to be mentioned in the book's "Acknowledgments" (p. 312). Excerpt:
A couple of warm dialogues with physicist Brian Swimme helped hone certain reflections, as did conversations with a broad range of luminous souls, among them Jay Griffiths, Kalevi Kull, Wendell Berry, David Cayley, Patrick Curry, Donna House, Omar Zubaedi, Georg Glazner, Eva Simms, Tom Jay, Will Adams, Niel Thiese, Morten Tonnessen, Stefan Lang-Gilliatt, Maya Ward, Jan van Boekel, Deborah Bird Rose, Ed Casey, Bill Plotkin, Keren Abrams, Steve Talbott, Craig Holdrege, Eileen Crist, the late and much missed Briagn Goodwin, Peter Adams, Chris Wells, Jennifer Sahn, Jon Young, Peter Manchester, and Arthur Zajonc.
Other Norwegians mentioned: Arne Naess, Per Ingvar Haukeland and Per Espen Stoknes.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

PDF, and bibliographical reference, for "Is a wolf..."

September 16th I posted that Humanimalia vol. 2, no. 1 was published. At that point no PDFs were on site. Now, however, they are - including for my contribution "Is a wolf wild as long as it does not know it is being thoroughly managed?" (which has been given the short-title "Is a wolf wild as long as it does not know it is managed?").
Bibliographical reference:
Morten Tønnessen 2010. "Is a wolf wild as long as it does not know it is being thoroughly managed?" Humanimalia - a journal of human/animal interface studies 2(1): 1-8.

Multimodality anthology published

The anthology Sammensatte tekster: Barns tekstpraksis [Complex texts: Children's text practice] is being published as we speak. I have assisted the editor and the contributors with proof-reading, by composing index etc.
Here's a presentation at the page of the publishing house, here the table of contents. In the book my assistance is credited on page 7, in the preface.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Langedrag next

New field trip, September 22-25: To Langedrag mountain farm and wildlifepark - 500 km by train + 30 km by car, on the way back 30 km by bike + 500 km by train.
Langedrag has two enclosures with captive wolves - one socialized and another 'wild'. Unlike with Polar Zoo, where I visited in March, at Langedrag visitors are taken into the confinement of the shyest gang, not the most socialized one. The terms, however, appear to have another meaning than in Polar Zoo, where the shy couple did not receive visits and would not have approached people like they appear to do at Langedrag.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

"Is a wolf..." published in Humanimalia

My article "Is a wolf wild as long as it does not know that it is being thoroughly handled?" has been published today in the American online journal Humanimalia, published at DePauw University. Issue 3 (volume 2, number 1 - Fall 2010) includes two further Nordic contributions (book reviews by Helena Pedersen - Malmö - and Tora Holmberg, Uppsala).

The topic of wildness is a matter of ongoing debate in the wildlife management community. In this essay it is related to questions of shyness and actual human interference (especially on the management side). The well-documented case of the Scandinavian wolf population suggests that shyness is not a sufficient criterion for wildness. For all the wolf knows, it is still a wild animal – and it still behaves like one. But are we justified in claiming that a (more or less) free-ranging wolf is truly wild, simply because it does not know that it is being thoroughly managed? The article introduces this theme and the case at hand, covering wolf mortality, human artifacts in the life-world of wolves, and captures. The long-term goal of wildlife conservation, the author proposes, should be to restore the independent viability of wildlife. Wildness, in short, has to go beyond appearances. In a closing note, Arne Næss’ philosophy of wolf policies is critically evaluated.

Formally done as research assistant

My engagement as a research assistent (advisor) for the Norwegian research project "Multimodality, literacy and learning" (MULL), at University of Agder, has formally expired as of September 15th.

Mapping human impact revised

Some hours ago I finished revising my article "Mapping human impact: Expanding horizons - Interdisciplinary integration", cf. previous posts, for the forthcoming CECT II proceedings. In the process I have added approximately 1.000 words (but removed 4 figures).


Qualities and quantities
Ecological footprint and ontological niche: Two complementary approaches
Development of ontological maps
On interpreting numerical data qualitatively

At a general level, the recurring topic of this article is the opposition and complementarity of qualitative and quantitative aspects of empirical data. In particular, an attempt is made to develop means to qualify quantitative data. More particularly, however, the aim of the current text is to investigate the extent of human impact in nature in contemporary times – or more precisely to evaluate proposed representations thereof. The theoretical perspective stems from ecosemiotics and biosemiotics, with special emphasis on a phenomenological reading of Jakob von Uexküll.

An important component of this contribution consists of a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of two methodologies – the ecological footprint (a common tool in policy-making) and the ontological niche (the author's own coinage based on the theory of ecosemiotics). One of the main objectives of the developers of the ecological footprint concept was to make the general public and policy-makers aware of excessive resource use. While that is estimable in its right context, the author proposes that the ontological niche concept can complement the ecological footprint notion by covering aspects of the environmental problématique which for conceptual reasons the former cannot cover. Overcoming the ecological crisis requires awareness of the global dimension and the resource situation, but also of the personal, experiential aspects of our current predicament – our personal involvement in humankind’s material engagement in the ecosystems. The texture of reality is what is ultimately at stake here, and the ontological niche notion is introduced so as to emphasize our embedded, rather than detached, position in the world of the living.

The basic motion in this text is that from self to world. Exemplifying what the ontological niche amounts to, the author provides ontological maps ranging from the social relations of one individual to a rough sketch of the global ecological situation. In a concluding section the general problem of interpreting numerical data qualitatively is approached by way of three steps: (1) Determining existence status, (2) Determining the character of the relation and (3) Translating numerical data to characterizing terms.

THE world ranking of universities

This year I am one of the many who have voted (upon invitation) as part of the Times Higher Education (THE)'s annual ranking of the world's top 200 universities. The ranking has just been published. These are the universities I have collaborators at, and/or have visited, and/or have academic contacts at (the University of Oslo is so far not ranked, due to lacking info - and I am sure I am leaving out some):
6. University of Cambridge, UK (visited)
17. University of Toronto, Canada (contact)
34. National university of Singapore, Singapore (contact)
89. Lund university, Sweden (contact)
102. University of Helsinki, Finland (visited, contact)
106. Purdue university, USA (contact)
115. National Taiwan university, Taiwan (contact)
135. University of Bergen, Norway (visited, contact, collaborator)
147. Uppsala university, Sweden (contact, collaborator)
167. Aarhus university, Denmark (contact)
170. University of Groningen, Netherlands (visited)
177. University of Copenhagen, Denmark (visited, contact)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Zoosemiotics abstract: Umwelt trajectories

I have just finished my abstract for the forthcoming zoosemiotics conference.

Morten Tønnessen

The Umwelt trajectories of wolves, sheep and people


This paper contributes to developing Umwelt terminology, and simultaneously offers an analysis of past and current interrelations of wolves, sheep and people, thus providing an application of the notation suggested.

The starting point for the author’s terminology is the concept of an Umwelt transition, which is in effect an Uexküllian notion of environmental change. An Umwelt transition can be defined as a lasting, systematic change within the life cycle of a being, considered from an ontogenetic (individual), phylogenetic (population-, species-) or cultural perspective, from one typical appearance of its Umwelt (i.e., organism-specific phenomenal world) to another. An Umwelt trajectory, the author proposes, can be characterized as the course through evolutionary (and cultural) time taken by the Umwelt of a creature, as defined by its changing relations with the Umwelten of other creatures. Thus defined it represents an evolutionary and mass equivalent of Jakob von Uexküll’s notion of the Umwelt-tunnel of a single individual creature.

As we can see, the Umwelt trajectory of a creature is the historical path of its perceptual and behavioral dispositions considered from an ecological and phenomenological point of view. As such, it is intimately tied to this creature’s ontological niche, i.e. the set of contrapuntal relations that a being takes part in at a given point of natural history. Like the Umwelt tunnel and the ontological niche, the Umwelt trajectory of a creature can be regarded as a specification of the Umwelt concept which situates it in terms of temporal perspective.

Taken as a whole the Umwelten of wolves, sheep and people represent an Umwelt triad of sorts, given that they have been and remain intertwined and codependent. This triple Umwelt is telling of both ecological and cultural developments. In cultural terms, hardly any animals are as loaded with symbolic value as the wolf and the sheep. And the shared importance is no coincidence, as the symbolism of the two animals has developed in explicit opposition to each other. Altogether the wolf-sheep duet, the human-sheep duet and the human-wolf duet – to speak with Uexküll – constitute a highly coordinated triple duet in the great symphony of nature.

The most enlivening aspect of this narrative concerns the semiotic and phenomenological interplay that takes place amid wolves, sheep and people. While the most relevant long-term process of change varies from creature to creature – evolution for wolves, breeding for sheep and cultural development for people (all of which represent broad categories of Umwelt transitions) – there are several common factors at play as well. In this paper, the author will touch upon a) the geographical range and overlap, (b) the sensory range and overlap, and c) the functional range and overlap of wolves, sheep and people. The most crucial arena for semiotic interplay (and thus semiotic causation) is that of functional interrelations, particularly with regard to companionship and enmity. In our current ecological situation, where the human species has emerged as a global species in charge of an ecological empire wherein the sheep, among other species, has been given a privileged position, even the wolf has entered into a dependency relation with our kind. For better or worse, our Umwelt trajectories have (once again) aligned.

Philosophy pecha kucha-style

I've uploaded a video of my pecha kucha-presentation of 'The history of philosophy in 1-2-3' to YouTube (parental warning: Norwegian language).

Monday, 13 September 2010

Brief report from my visit in Estonia Sept. 5-9 (= Academic news in brief XI)

1. On Monday 6th of September I met for the first time with the Estonian wolf ethologist Ilmar Rootsi, with Nelly Mäekivi as mediator. Me and Rootsi (72) agreed to co-write an academic article on man-eating and rabid wolves in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Estonia. The article will have a perspective of at least 200 years of history. Fellow ecosemiotician Silver Rattasepp later agreed to partake in making the article happen, stepping in for Nelly as mediator. He will be credited as a co-author.
2. For a week or so, I pondered upon contributing to the third Center of Excellence in Cultural Theory conference, which is due in late October, with a joint poster presentation on wolves. Prospective cooperators were too busy, however.
3. Tuesday 7th I met with my supervisor Kalevi Kull. We agreed on a time schedule for my thesis work this last year of my PhD studies. A full thesis (monograph) is to be completed by April 1st, 2011, and revised following comments by pre-reviewers by May 20th, at which point I'll formally apply for a doctoral degree. The defense will take place approximately September 30th, 2011, at Tartu's Department of Semiotics.
4. The same day I met the Italian PhD student Davide Weible, who studies a topic not so different from mine (phenomenology + biology).
5. On Wednesday 8th I met briefly with the Estonian folklorist Merili Metsvahi, who specializes on Estonian werewolves.
6. An important task during this visit was to move our things from the apartment we have been renting up until August 15th, in Kuu street. Me and my wife left the country with 66 kg of luggage, after having sent 25 kg by post.
7. Around the conclusion of the trip I arranged tickets for my next visit to Tartu, which will take place November 23rd-30th.

Bibliographical reference for Lotman piece

Here's the bibliographical reference for 'Da Lotman og semiotikken kom til Norge' [When Lotman and semiotics came to Norway], which I got to see in print for the first time last Monday:

Dinda L. Gorlée and Morten Tønnessen 2010. "Da Lotman og semiotikken kom til Norge". Pp 258-259 in Turid Farbregd and Øyvind Rangøy (Eds.): Estland og Norge i fortid og nåtid - Norsk-estisk forening 25 år. Oslo: Norsk-estisk forening.

The article includes a picture (in Dinda Gorlée's ownership) from Sebeok and Lotman's encounter in Bergen in 1986.

'Food vs. nature' declined AGAIN

My text 'Food vs. nature: How human taste has shaped nature as we know it', which was first submitted to and rejected by a special issue of Politics and Culture on food sovereignty, has now been declined also by The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, after a 16 month+ review process.
Most of the content has already been published elsewhere.

Pecha Kucha Night Oslo - record-brief history of philosophy

Last Thursday I presented "The history of philosophy in 1-2-3" At Pecha Kucha Night Oslo, vol. 15, for an audience of perhaps 400, as part of my commercial project Spør Filosofen (Ask The Philosopher - which is also on Facebook).

Pecha Kucha is a format for very consice Powerpoint-style presentations - 20 slides are presented, they shift automatically, and you only have 20 seconds to talk about each one (for more info, see here).

I have uploaded some pictures from other presentations that same evening in my Norwegian blog Utopisk Realisme, and am in the process of uploading a video of my own 6 min 40 sec performance to Youtube.

Norwegian HAS anthology: Authors in process of being confirmed

The human-animal relations anthology I will be editing with eco-criminologists Guri Larsen and Ragnhild Sollund is in the process of scheduling participation with invited contributors. Last Thursday I met with political scientist Svenn Arne Lie in Oslo. Hopefully both he and environmental historian Finn Arne Jørgensen will confirm their participation.
Conservation scientist Tormod V. Burkey has confirmed his participation. So has professor in biology Dag Hessen, who will co-write a chapter with me on what is unique about humans and what we have in common with other creatures. My further contributions will entail two chapters written solely by me (one on carnivore wildness and the other on man as a global species) and two introductory chapters co-written with my two fellow editors.

Minding Animals Pre-Conference Lectures in Oslo and Sydney

The last few days I have been in contact with Minding Animals International's convenor Rod Bennison (Newcastle, Australia) and others discussing the possibility of a Pre-Conference Lecture event in Oslo at some point towards the end of 2011. The initiative is Rhys Evans'. He has just started working for the Norwegian University College for Agriculture and Rural Development (Høgskolen for landbruk og bygdenæringer - HLB) in South-Western Norway. I am also likely to attend a Pre-Conference Lecture event in Uppsala, Sweden, around the same time. MAI and The Nordic Animal Studies Network will be the broader networks auspicing the events. Further details follow...
I am further a candidate for giving a lecture at the Pre-Conference Lecture event which will take place in Sydney, February 19th 2011, in connection with the workshop on the history and philosophy of ethology. For all these occasions, cf. the MAI webpage soon.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Endorsing the CASSE position on economic growth

I have just signed the CASSE (Center for the advancement of the steady state economy) position on economic growth, as the 6000th or so person who has done so since the statement was launched in 2004. Among the other individuals who have signed the position you'll find Jane Goodall, David Mech, Vandana Shiva and E.O. Wilson (full list here).

1) Economic growth, as defined in standard economics textbooks, is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and;

2) Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the multiplied product of population and per capita consumption, and;

3) The global economy grows as an integrated whole consisting of agricultural, extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors that require physical inputs and produce wastes, and;

4) Economic growth is often and generally indicated by increasing real gross domestic product (GDP) or real gross national product (GNP), and;

5) Economic growth has been a primary, perennial goal of many societies and most governments, and;

6) Based upon established principles of physics and ecology, there is a limit to economic growth, and;

7) There is increasing evidence that global economic growth is having negative effects on long-term ecological and economic welfare…

Therefore, we take the position that:
1) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection (for example, biodiversity conservation, clean air and water, atmospheric stability), and;

2) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and the ecological services underpinning the human economy (for example, pollination, decomposition, climate regulation), and;

3) Technological progress has had many positive and negative ecological and economic effects and may not be depended on to reconcile the conflict between economic growth and long-term ecological and economic welfare, and;

4) Economic growth, as gauged by increasing GDP, is an increasingly dangerous and anachronistic goal, especially in wealthy nations with widespread affluence, and;

5) A steady state economy (that is, an economy with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption) is a viable alternative to a growing economy and has become a more appropriate goal in large, wealthy economies, and;

6) The long-run sustainability of a steady state economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of reduced ecological and economic capacity during expected or unexpected supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages, and;

7) A steady state economy does not preclude economic development, a dynamic, qualitative process in which different technologies may be employed and the relative prominence of economic sectors may evolve, and;

8) Upon establishing a steady state economy, it would be advisable for wealthy nations to assist other nations in moving from the goal of economic growth to the goal of a steady state economy, beginning with those nations currently enjoying high levels of per capita consumption, and;

9) For many nations with widespread poverty, increasing per capita consumption (or, alternatively, more equitable distributions of wealth) remains an appropriate goal.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wolf history: Agents in hiding

[Abstract of paper accepted for presentation at the sixth ESEH conference, see previous post]

Humans are so accustomed to being the subjects of history that to many, it is provocative to claim that animals too can be actors of history. Such attitudes are enthused by our age-old philosophical dismissal of animals. A hundred years ago, nature writers William J. Long and Ernest Thompson Seton caused controversy by claiming that their writings were accurate representations of natural history. Their depiction of wolves sparked a debate about whether animals were individual creatures subject to learning or instinct-driven specimen. Charges of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism have never silenced, and the relation between science and folklore remains troublesome.
The cultural baggage at play in the discourse about wolf policies is so overwhelming that even an environmental historian can be excused for confusing the map with the territory. While in a strict sense we cannot go beyond having cultural perceptions of the wolf, it does matter how we treat the wolf in environmental history. Attributing agenthood to the wolf entails, for a start, to regard it as an animal that acts. Naturally, there is a whole range of different actions (biologist Jakob von Uexküll operated with seven categories). In many cases, wolves are decision makers. They make informed choices (typically based on what Michael Polanyi calls tacit knowing).
Being an actor may not in itself qualify anyone as an actor of historical significance. But some individuals stand out. To illustrate the function wolf agency can play in environmental history, I will make use of three examples:
1 The beast of Gévaudan: Man-eating wolf(s) that caused havoc in 1764-1767 (disputed).
2 “Ivan”: An immigrant from the East that was shot illegally (contemporary Norway)
3 The Galven bitch: Unaware of management zones, this sheep-eating female was the first to be relocated (contemporary Norway)

Animal agency presentation accepted

I have just been informed that the panel proposed by my collaborator Håkon Stokland for the sixth conference of the European Society for Environmental History, to be arranged in Turku, Finland, June 28th to July 2nd 2011, has been accepted by the scientific committee. The title of the panel session has been changed from "Animal agency and history - three different approaches to Scandinavian wolves" to "Animal agency and environmental history - three different approaches to Nordic wolves", and the committee has added a fourth presenter, a Ms. Heta Lähdesmäki.
Below is an overview of the four papers now included in the panel (Dr. Frank Zelko will be the session chair).
"Wolf history: Agents in hiding"
PhD candidate Morten Tønnessen
"Influencing military strategy, developing chemistry, changing politics: The role of the wolf in 1800-century Sweden"
Dr. Karin Dirke
"Animal agency and the wolf that saved an entire population"
PhD candidate Håkon Stokland
"Controlling wolves: Attitudes towards wolves in Finland in the 1990s"
Ms. Heta Lähdesmäki