Thursday, 14 April 2011

Brief report from the conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations

The international conference Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations took place here in Tartu last week (April 4-8). There were around 60 presentations, and up to 120 people attending each day. Counted by institutional affiliation, the presenters alone represented 5 continents and 19 countries.

As a member of the organizing team, I, as my colleagues, was impressed both by the good attendance and the overall quality of presentations and discussions. The whole event is proof of growing interest in a semiotic approach to animals, especially in the humanities. If there was one group we were missing, it was a larger presence of the biosemiotic community (and natural scientists). Just a handful of biosemioticians were present. Nevertheless the conference attracted more presenters and attendants than any Gathering in Biosemiotics has ever done to this date.

My roles at the conference included
* being a member of the organizing team (lead by Timo Maran)
* presenting "The Umwelt Trajectories of Wolves, Sheep and People" (April 6th, 14.30-15.00)
* chairing the roundtable "Futures of Zoosemiotics" (April 6th, 16.30-18.00)
* giving closing remarks (April 8th)

In the roundtable, Stephen Pain was not present (cf. earlier list of roundtable participants), whereas Aleksei Turovski was added. During the session Colin Allen raised a very pertinent question: Whether zoosemiotics can show to scientific results which could not have been achieved without a zoosemiotic approach. "Semiotics", he said, "has to stop talking about what it is and start talking about what it does."

Here's the topical presentation of the roundtable, as included in the abstract book:

Thomas Sebeok’s role as a founding father of zoosemiotics is unquestioned. On what points should his views be challenged? What is the proper relation of zoosemiotics to biosemiotics, and to ecosemiotics – and how does it compare with cognitive ethology and anthrozoology? Should zoosemiotics be understood as a meta-scientific discipline, as a program for ethology or the animal life sciences, or as a scientific enterprise in its own right? A general aim of semiotics of nature (biosemiotics, zoosemiotics, ecosemiotics etc.) is to help bridging the nature/culture divide and counteract the related compartmentalisation of science and scholarly studies. To what extent should human behavior be included as a study object of zoosemiotics? In particular, how are human-animal relations to be treated? What is the role of the individual subject in biology today – and tomorrow? How well is today’s zoosemiotics fitted to account for the changing global ecological reality?

See also:
Creed (from the introduction to the roundtable)
Semiotics of Animal Representations - update
Zoosemiotics email list - how to register
Zoosemiotic grant meeting

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