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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Abstract for Uppsala event "Zoo-ethnographies"

This is the abstract I submitted for the Uppsala symposium "Zoo-ethnographies", which was arranged 17-18 October. The reference was omitted from the program booklet.

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

Morten Tønnessen

Among the core notions I introduce in my recently submitted doctoral dissertation Umwelt transition and Uexküllian phenomenology: An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management is that of a global species (see Tønnessen 2010). In short, by establishing a global ‘colonial organism’ our species has installed an ecological empire, organised with Homo sapiens placed highest in the hierarchy and with crop species, pets, and livestock enjoying positions of privilege. The sheep, the third most significant creature in my case study on Norwegian wolf management beyond wolves and people (given a conflict-oriented focus on livestock predation), partakes in our ecological empire in a quite central position, as one of the top five livestock species globally. The wolf, on the other hand, does not fit in with the modern idea we have had until recently of how we want nature to be (unlike the dog, for which the wolf is an ancestor). Sheep: companion; wolf: foe.

The two global species implied in the title of this presentation, then, are our own subspecies of the human kind (Homo sapiens sapiens), and the sheep (Ovis aries). The wolf (Canis lupus), once the most widely distributed large mammal on Earth, is no global species, but it has given rise to the dog, which is. In Sweden, Man’s “best friend” is arguably the prime animal with which the wolf is conceived of as being in conflict with, and in Norway the dog-wolf problem is perceived as second in importance only to the sheep-wolf problem. In the course of this presentation I will portray the symbolic construction of the Big Bad Wolf in contemporary Norway. Wolves and sheep have historically often been juxtaposed, especially in the context of the Bible. 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, since the symbolism of the two animals has frequently developed in explicit opposition to each other.


Morten Tønnessen 2010. The global species. New formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics culture/theory/politics 69 (Special Issue guest-edited by Ashley Dawson, Imperial Ecologies): 98-110. Featured as additional content in Encyclopaedia Britannica (

No role in GEO-5

In July I reported that I had nominated myself as a scientific reviewer for GEO-5, the 5th edition of Global Environmental Outlook. In early october I received notification that I had not been appointed a reviewer. They reportedly received about two hundred applications, and had around 50 places to fill.

List of illustrations in my doctoral dissertation

Figure 7: Waiting for wolves.

Figure 1. The levels of biosemiosis
Figure 2. Phenomenal fields
Figure 3. Umwelt transition – wolves becoming dogs – depicted over several steps
Figure 4. Umwelt transition in human relations to sheep and wolves
Figure 5. Umwelt transition in the relation of sheep and humans (overstated)
Figure 6. Field trips – map of places visited
Figure 7. Waiting for wolves
Figure 8. Feeding time
Figure 9. Life at Polar Zoo
Figure 10. Six stuffed (mounted) wolves in Norway
Figure 11. Secluded overview
Figure 12. Phenomenal fields – intragroup variation
Figure 13. a) A tripartite model of the human Umwelt, b) combined with phenomenal fields

See also:

Contents of my doctoral dissertation

I have previously posted preliminary contents for my doctoral dissertation, both of which are now outdated. In March I posted a semi-detailed table of contents, and in September revised contents in 117 paragraphs.

Here is the final, much simpler table of contents (but note that many of the headlines mentioned above will likely occur in the monograph I am now planning to complete based on my doctoral work):



1.1 Appraisal of Sebeok's depiction of the Umwelt as species-specific modelling system
1.2 The levels of biosemiosis

2.1 On the notion of phenomenology
2.2 Semiotics and phenomenology
2.3 Husserl's notion of Lebenswelt
2.4 The notion of Uexküllian phenomenology

3.1 Visual representation of Brock's phenomenal fields
3.2 The notion of semiotic causation

4.1 Field research
4.2 The cultural semiotic of wolves and sheep
4.3 Remarks on Næss' philosophy of wolf management
4.4 On invasive management of shy animals
4.5 The symbolic construction of the Big Bad Wolf in contemporary Norway


6.1 Theoretical findings
6.2 Umwelt futurology: Three Umwelt scenarios
6.3 Deep and shallow solutions


University of Tartu: Semiotics podcast; university ranking

In October the newsletter of the university of Tartu linked to a semiotic podcast. Semiotics - lingering or thriving?, posted in September, documents a panel discussion from the 5-day Tartu summer school in semiotics, which was launched this year.

The same newsletter could report that Times Higher Education (THE) now ranks the University of Tartu among the 350-400 top universities globally. This is the highest the university has been ranked, and places it among the top 3 % of universities internationally. University of Tartu is the highest ranked university of Estonia.

Doctoral thesis submitted

My doctoral dissertation was submitted to the University of Tartu's Council of Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics on October 10th.

The final title ended up being "Umwelt transition and Uexküllian phenomenology: An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management". The Estonian version of the title reads "Uexkülli fenomenoloogia ja omailma üleminekud: Norra hundipopulatsiooni majandamise ökosemiootiline analüüs".

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Arne i 100 on Twitter

Arne i 100, which has been founded to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the birth of philosopher Arne Næss, is now on Twitter (arnei100).

A website on our own domain is straight around the corner. For now at least I am both webmaster and responsible for the Twitter account.

Reminder: CFP on Eco-phenomenology at NoSP 2012

See my post wherein I call for contributions to a prospective panel on eco-phenomenology/phenomenology and biological science at next year's conference of the Nordic Society for Phenomenology (NoSP). Response by November 30th, please.

A couple of people have shown interest, but I still need to see actual abstracts.

"Wolf play" a YouTube hit

My video clip "Wolf Play" passed 10.000 views on YouTube at some point by November 18th. Since then it has been shown more than a 1.000 times more (and it has been shown 6.000 times the last month). Where is this gonna stop?

Further wolf vids on YouTube on MrMortenTonnessen's channel:
"Wolves wrestle" (289 views)

.... and 6 more.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

CFP: Panel on Eco-phenomenology at NoSP 2012

I am hoping to gather a group of scholars/graduate students for a joint panel on the theme "Eco-phenomenology: Phenomenology and the life sciences" for the 10th annual conference of the Nordic Society for Phenomenology (NoSP), which is to be arranged at the University of Oslo, Norway, June 7-9 2012. The general theme of the NoSP conference is "The Varieties of Phenomenology".

This panel will likely include presentation of the book Environment, Embodiment and Gender (eds. Johannes Servan and Ane Faugstad Aarø; Bergen: Hermes Text, 2011), where Charles Brown, David Abram, Ted Toadvine, Monika Langer and others contribute with chapters. Topics of the panel will further include Uexküllian phenomenology and animal subjectivity. Further proposals from various angles are welcome.

If accepted by the organizers, this proposed panel will envelop papers presented in parallel with other sessions. The maximum length of each talk is 20 minutes, and there will be 10 minutes for discussion. Please submit your proposal to me as the panel convenor in the form of a suggested title and an abstract of maximum 200 words.

Proposals should be sent to mortentoennessen[at] by November 30th.