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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Nova: Semiotics e-book published; new invite received

The Nova book Semiotics: Theory and applications, where I contribute with chapter 6, The Semioethics Interviews III: John Deely: Human Understanding in the Age of Global Awareness, has now apparently been published both as an e-book and in print. The e-book version was said to be in final production as of March 12th (see below).

Nova's semiotics anthology published? (March 12)
Nova's semiotics publication: To be released when? (February 1)

Meanwhile, today I received a third invitation to contribute with a chapter to a Nova Science Publishers anthology (along with countless others, I am sure). The topic this time: Wolves: Biology, Behavior and Conservation.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Reference: On the ontological niche, semiotic niche, and the ethiosphere

I have recently found out that I am referred to in Susan Stuart's book chapter "Enkinaesthesia, Biosemiotics, and the Ethiosphere" (pp. 305-330 in Stephen Cowley, João Carlos Major, Sune Steffensen and Alfredo Dini (eds.): Signifying Bodies: Biosemiosis, Interaction and Health. Portuguese Catholic University, Braga, Portugal.). The reference appears on page 325, just ahead of the Conclusion:
One brief last word is important to respond to a possible objection and emphasise the range over which the ethiosphere can be said to extend. Tønnessen [2009] distinguishes between the semiotic niche or semiosphere, and an ontological niche. The semiotic niche, he argues, operates within the class of ideal agents, and the ontological niche describes real agential relations. So, the ontological niche concerns living organisms. If we accept his distinction, then the ethiosphere would seem most naturally to apply in real world circumstances where the relations are felt concernful matterings and not over the semiosohere; however, from an enactivist ethical consideration of real, multi-directional, contrapuntal relations [Colombetti & Torrance 2009], it would be possible to conceive of, and even formulate, a normativity that ought to hold in ideal circumstances and, thus, across the semiosphere. So, although at first glance the notion of the ethiosphere seems more clearly co-extensive with the non-ideal ontological niche, there is no confounding reason to think it not, at least, potentially coextensive with the semiosphere as well.
Tønnessen, M. (2009) “On Contrapuntuality, Semiotic niche vs. ontological niche, The case of the Scandinavian wolf population”, paper given at Contrapuntuality - Gatherings in Biosemiotics, Prague

A brief introduction to biosemiotics

The Language and Life research cluster of the Distributed Language Group is now in place, for now with 15 members with background from biosemiotics, ecolinguistics and enactivism. Coordinator Stephen Cowley asked three of us to provide brief introductions to these three fields, and suggested I conducted the one on biosemiotics. Here it is.

It is challenging to sum up what biosemiotics is all about for two reasons: Firstly, because it is an incredibly diverse field, and secondly, because it does not yet have a unified terminology. There are ongoing attempts to develop such a unitary approach, and several programmatic drafts are in circulation. As to the first, the diversity of biosemiotics is perhaps inevitable (regardless of whether or not a unified terminology will one day emerge), given that any topic matter in the realm of the living – approached as a phenomenon at any level of biological organization – can be a topic of biosemiotics. Biosemiotics is a semiotic approach to matters of the living and the life processes.

The umbrella term ‘semiotics of nature’ is sometimes used as a common denominator of more specialized fields including biosemiotics (semiotic biology), ecosemiotics (semiotic ecology) and zoosemiotics (semiotic zoology). Of these, zoosemiotics was initially first and foremost a study of animal communication. In the narrow sense, to sum up, ‘biosemiotics’ is opposed to zoosemiotics and ecosemiotics – but in a more general sense it is often taken as synonymous with ‘semiotics of nature’.

Central notions of biosemiotics, apart from obvious terms such as ‘meaning’, ‘sign’ and ‘communication’, include ‘code’ and ‘interpretation’, as well as ‘system’ (living systems approached as sign systems) and ‘model’. Thomas Sebeok (1920-2001), one of the seminal figures of biosemiotics, developed a notion of the Umwelt (lifeworld) of animals/humans as a species-specific modeling system (to the effect that each animal species models their surroundings in a unique way that is characteristic for its species). The Umwelt concept was originally developed by Jakob von Uexküll (1864-1944), another of biosemiotics’ seminal figures. Perhaps the best simplified dictum of biosemiotics, in my mind, is that we should study the living by studying what makes sense to them (and in them). Meaning generation is at the core here, whether it is in perception and social life or in bodily semiosis. In the case of studies of animal (or human) Umwelten, biosemiotics favors re-modeling in abstract, scientific language of animals’ own modeling of their relevant surroundings in terms of their actual perceptual and behavioral worlds. Biosemiotics, in this sense, is the re-modeling of the real-life modeling taking place in animal nature and nature in general.

While ‘semiosis’ in general is the action of signs, ‘biosemiosis’ is the action of signs in the biological realm. The ‘threshold of semiosis’ as well as the ‘threshold of biosemiosis’ is under continuous debate, though Sebeok held that the realm of semiosis is co-extensive with the realm of the living. The uncanny term ‘anthroposemiosis’ has been coined to designate the human share of (bio)semiosis; but some distinguish biosemiosis from cultural semiosis. It is generally agreed, however, that it makes sense to talk about a human Umwelt (i.e., to talk about the human lifeworld in terms of Umwelt theory), though there is no detailed agreement as to what distinguishes human life. Except perhaps on one view: That human language is deeply different from animal communication in that it is unusually symbol-laden and opens up the lifeworlds of people in some sense, thus allowing us, somewhat, to share experiences. Simultanously, biosemioticians take for granted that human language and animal communication can to some extent be described in the same scientific language.

In the world of semiotics, many biosemioticians position themselves as followers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), while others have yet other icons and sources of inspiration. Few, however, regard the work of Saussure as a promising model. The general opinion is that Saussure unjustifiably presented human language as the typical model of semiosis/sign systems. While many biosemioticians have an interest in human language, human cognitive development etc., human language is in general viewed as a very complex, perhaps the most complex, instance of a sign system. Nevertheless some biosemioticians use linguistic metaphors in speaking about 'syntax' and 'semantics' (and 'pragmatics') in nature; some also theorize about nature as 'text'.

Given the variety of biosemiotic approaches, what I have written here does not do justice to much of what goes under the name of biosemiotics. My own approach is focused on the level of the individual, and the social/ecological level – but there are other biosemioticians who focus almost exclusively on what I here brashly mention as bodily semiosis. In short, human language can be approached from a biosemiotic (in the narrow sense), ecosemiotic and zoosemiotic perspective, thus situating human language in either a narrowly biological, ecological, or zoological setting. These various approaches reflect biosemioticians’ interest in partly related fields, including cybernetics, hermeneutics, and philosophical anthropology, to mention but a few. Accordingly, human language can be approached as a secondary modeling system (given that the Umwelt is the primary modeling system) - i.e., as a 'upper' or additional layer of our specifically human lifeworld - as a linguistic coding system, etc.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dissertation: Semi-detailed table of contents

I am in the process of finishing the second draft of my doctoral dissertation, titled for now "Umwelt Transition: Uexküllian Phenomenology - An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management". I now distinguish between Contents At A Glance and a Detailed Table of Contents. Here's an excerpt of the latter (the fully detailed table contains a third layer of organization in addition to the two shown here).

Contents at a glance

Detailed table of contents



Chapter 1 Making Sense of Nature

1.1 Introduction

1.2 The Umwelt theory of Jakob von Uexküll

1.3 Uexküllian thought after Uexküll

1.4 Problems in contemporary ethological approaches to nature

1.5 Problems in contemporary semiotic approaches to nature

1.6 Changing views on a changing nature

1.7 The topic of change

1.8 Umwelt typology – systematic outline

1.9 On the current ecological situation

1.10 What is subjective biology today?

Chapter 2 Uexküllian Phenomenology

2.1 Introduction: Uexküll and phenomenology

2.2 Semiotics and phenomenology

2.3 Problems of phenomenology

2.4 Problems of ontology

2.5 Communal being and distinctive being

2.6 On the forms of existence

2.7 Development of a typology of Umwelt transitions

2.8 Modern Umwelten

2.9 Further theoretical developments

Chapter 3 The Semiotics of the Ecological Crisis

3.1 Introduction: The trajectory of a crisis

3.2 Semiosis and crisis

3.3 On matters of diversity and extinction

3.4 The semiotics of domestication and related phenomena

3.5 Developing the perspective of Umwelt alignment

3.6 On matters of ethics and economy

3.7 Anthropocene studies: The global species

3.8 Characteristic developments in the modern era

3.9 Current developments

Chapter 4 Umwelt Mapping

4.1 Introduction: On mapping semiosis at the level of the organism, and higher levels

4.2 First examples of ontological maps

4.3 Mapping human impact

4.4 On matters of quality and quantity

4.5 Methodological challenges

4.6 Developing the notion of ontological maps

Chapter 5 Case study: Norwegian Wolf Management

5.1 Introduction: Prelude to the Norwegian wolf wars

5.2 The cultural semiotics of wolves and sheep

5.3 Contextual encircling of the topic matter of the case study

5.4 The situation for Norwegian sheep farmers and agriculture

5.5 Conflict areas in current wolf management

5.6 Controversial questions in the current debate

5.7 Geographical treatment

5.8 Field trips

5.9 Management strategies

5.10 Management methods

5.11 Historical exposition – the era of extermination campaigns

5.12 Historical exposition – the era of conservation efforts

5.13 Contemporary exposition (2006-2011)

5.14 On matters of legality

5.15 On matters of democracy, empowerment and knowledge regimes

5.16 Mapping of the Umwelt of wolves in Norway

5.17 Mapping of the Umwelt of sheep and other relevant animals in Norway

5.18 Mapping of the Umwelt of selected groups of Norwegians

5.19 Analysis: The wolf and other symbols

5.20 Analysis: Matters of management philosophy

5.21 Further analysis

5.22 Analysis: Umwelt transitions

5.23 Future perspectives

Chapter 6 Umwelt Transition

6.1 Introduction: Theoretical findings

6.2 Evaluation of theoretical assumptions

6.3 Evaluation of the methodology of Umwelt mapping

6.4 Ecological alienation

6.5 Theoretical development: Umwelt transition

6.6 On further theoretical development

Summary in Estonian



Curriculum Vitae

Registration closed for intensive course

The registration for my upcoming intensive course "Semiotics and phenomenology" closed March 15th. There are 5 students registered for the course.

Links: Nature; Springer

I have received an email inviting me to apply for a complimentary subscription of the journal Nature methods. Pretty sure I will not be deemed to qualify. Not much purchasing power in my backyard.

A notification from Springer details the addresses of their Realtime Feed, giving an instantanous overview of the latest articles downloaded of Springer origin, and their Realtime Icons, which visualizes the latest downloads by detailing their source publication.

Complimentary magazine subscriptions

Roundtable participants: Futures of zoosemiotics

The roundtable "Futures of Zoosemiotics" - which I am chairing - to take place April 6th as part of the Tartu conference "Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations" (April 4-8), will have the following participants:

* Matthew Chrulew (Macquarie University, Australia)
* Paul Cobley (London Metropolitan University, UK)
* Kalevi Kull (University of Tartu, Estonia)
* Katya Mandoki (Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico)
* Timo Maran (University of Tartu, Estonia)
* Stephen Pain (Denmark)

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Nova's semiotics anthology published?

The book collection Semiotics: Theory and Applications, which was to be published in the 4th quarter of 2010, and where I contribute with "The Semioethics Interviews III: John Deely: Human Understanding in the Age of Global Awareness ", has apparently been published by now, in hardcover (status is set to "Available"). The e-book, however, is still in "Final Production".


The last few days I have conducted the final proof-reading of two texts of mine (second round), both of which are to be published within the next few weeks, as a book chapter and proceedings chapter respectively:
* I, Wolf: The Ecology of Existence (22pp)
* Mapping Human Impact: Expanding Horizons - Interdisciplinary Integration (18s)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Reference in 2008 master thesis

I have just found out that I am mentioned in a master thesis from 2008.

Nigu, Leenu 2008. Keha ja tähendus nüüdistantsus: Fine5 Tantsuteatri lavastus „Panus“ [The body and meaning in post-modern dance: “Bet” by Fine5 Dance Theatre] [p. 23]. Master thesis. University of Tartu.
In footnote 16, she writes, in a comment to the view of Paul Ricoeur (where she points out similarities with a biosemiotic idea of phenomenological creatures):
Viimane väide on intrigeerivalt sarnane biosemiootikute ideedega. Hiljutisel TÜ ja Helsingi Võrguülikoolide kraadiõppurite ühisseminaril täheldas Morten Tønnessen, et juhindub J. v Uexkülli fenomenoloogilisest semiootikast ning D. Abrami ökofenomenoloogiast ning et just läbi semiootilise tegevuse (semiotic agency) on kõik elusolendid fenomenoloogilise maailma subjektid. Õigupoolest, biosemiootika taustal vaadelduna kukub küsimus fenomenoloo-gilisest ja semiootilisest täiesti kokku. Ka teatris kokku saades ei jäta ei etendaja(d) ega publik oma bioloogilist olemust ukse taha. Bioloogilised märgisüsteemid toimivad teatris nagu igal pool mujalgi. Käesolev magistritöö jääb aga teadlikult inimese- ja kultuurikeskseks.

Opponent at MA defense

A couple of days ago I was asked to be the opponent at Mara Wood's MA defense at the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, which will take place May 30th or May 31st (I will take part through Skype). The title of her MA thesis is "Modelling affect into Jakob von Uexküll's functional circle".

Invitation to give keynote address in Uppsala

I have been invited to give one of the six keynote addresses at the Uppsala Minding Animals Pre-Conference event - and accepted. The academic event, which is titled Zoo-ethnographies, is to be arranged October 17-18.

Worktitle: "Two global species and their age-old foe: The semiotic eth(n)ology of wolves, sheep and people".

Review for Biosemiotics

Yesterday I conducted a peer-review for the journal Biosemiotics. This was my third such review for Biosemiotics and my fifth altogether.

MAO meeting

Today we had another phone/internet meeting in the organizing committee of the Oslo Minding Animals event. No big news - except that today we launched our Facebook page.

For an overview of all planned Utrecht pre-conference events, see MA international.

PS: I think I have not yet mentioned in Utopian Realism that when I was in Sydney a couple of weeks ago I met Rod Bennison, the convenor of Minding Animals International.