Friday, 21 December 2012

Minding Animals International to incorporate in the US

The Board of Directors of Minding Animals International has decided that the organization will incorporate as an NGO in the United States. I voted for, as representative of Minding Animals Norway. There were 13 affirmative votes and 6 not voting among board members and patrons. 

The exact form/structure of the organization is still to be discussed. Minding Animals Norway is organized as a democratic membership organization (currently with 20+ paying members). A membership model is now being considered for the international body as well.

Letter to the editor in weekly magazine

Today my letter to the editor "Gjør sauen en bjørnetjeneste" [Doing the sheep a disservice - a reference to Norwegian Farmers' Union and Senterpartiet's policy of wanting to drive the wolf to extinction in Norway] was published in the Norwegian national weekly Ny Tid. I am writing in capacity as chair of Minding Animals Norway

A readable scan of the text is available in my Norwegian language blog Utopisk Realisme.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Zoosemiotics research project: Final seminar; formal extension

The research project "Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations", where I take part as a researcher, arranged a concluding 4-hour Skype seminar on Tuesday December 11th. This was the fourth grant seminar (IV). The other participants were gathered at the university library in Tartu, Estonia. Participants including me presented current research activities, and we discussed possible future directions and cooperation.

Timo Maran, the head of the grant, informed us that he had applied for, and gotten approval for, a formal 1-year extension of the grant (from 2009-2012 to 2009-2013), so that forthcoming publications (to appear in 2013) derived from the project can still be included in reported activities. 

UiS profile updated

My profile webpage at the University of Stavanger has been updated with links, 2012 publications and new elected positions.

Interview on national radio

This Saturday, December 15th, a 17-minute interview with me as chair of Minding Animals Norway (and philosopher and semiotician at University of Stavanger) aired in the program "Verdibørsen" of the national public radio channel NRK P2 (the program was repeated Sunday December 16th). The interview, which was conducted by Aase Cathrine Myrtveit, is available as podcast.

Topics included human-animal relations, semiotics, the wolf as symbol, animal and environmental ethics and the term "non-human animal".

Monday, 17 December 2012

University of Stavanger to take concrete measures in relation to ethical trade

On the board meeting of University of Stavanger November 28th, where I took part as the representative for temporarily employed staff, the university's "action plan for ethical trade" was treated by the board. A news story from that meeting reads (excerpts, my translation):
Action plan and strategy for ethical trade UiS were also presented. The proposal [of the university director John Møst] was adopted with amendments from the Board members Morten Tønnessen and Erling Øverland.
My amendment, which was unanimously supported by the 11-person university board (after rector Marit Boyesen suggested to remove the phrase "e.g. related to energy", which I accepted), was that the board asks the university director to assess some (plural) concrete measures the university can take in the period 2013-2016 to follow up on the action plan for ethical trade.

More hits in Google Scholar

About a month ago I received a notification from Google Scholar listing a number of publications and presentations that had now been included in that academic search engine, apparently due to new criteria or sources (including A search on "Morten Tønnessen" now returns 100 hits.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Missing Tartu diploma ceremony; PhD diploma on its way

A little while ago I received an invitation to attend the ceremonial meeting dedicated to the 93rd anniversary of Estonia's national university on December 1st. At this event, my doctorate diploma would have been handed over to me, had I attended. But due to my current Norwegian residence (and recent fatherhood) I declined to attend. In consequence, the diploma will be sent to me by post (by a local contact).

The 100 pp. introduction to my PhD thesis "Umwelt transition and Uexküllian phenomenology: An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management" (defended December 2011) is available online.

Exam supervision in all channels

In the months leading up to the deadline for the home exam in Examen Philosophicum for nursing students at the University of Stavanger November 12th, I have been supervising students in several channels: Occasionally by SMS, exceptionally by phone, frequently in the hall at the university, frequently by email, and not least in the virtual learning environment "It's Learning" (here, I have replied to some 88 posts, some of which with follow-ups). Altogether I assume I have answered some 200 questions or more or less one question per student on average.

186 exam papers graded; are nurses good people?

Last night (literally) I finished grading 186 exam papers in Examen Philosophicum for nursing students at University of Stavanger. About 70% had chosen a task where they were asked to consider what it means to act as a nurse, and whether or not nurses are necessarily "good people" (in terms of morality).

Thursday, 8 November 2012

SUM's presentation of the Norwegian animal ethics conference

This is the presentation of Dyreetikkonferansen, the Norwegian animal ethics conference, on the pages of Centre for Development and the Environment (University of Oslo), one of the three institutions behind the conference. Published September 7th.

Den norske Dyreetikkonferansen arrangeres for første gang, på Litteraturhuset i Oslo. Initiativtagerne bak konferansen er Kristian Bjørkdahl ved Senter for utvikling og miljø (SUM) og Morten Tønnessen i Minding Animals Norge, som har alliert seg med Rådet for dyreetikk, samt med Mattilsynet og Veterinærinstituttet.
The Norwegian animal ethics conference is held for the first time, at the House of Literature in Oslo. The initiators behind the conference is Kristian Bjørkdahl at the Centre for Development and Environment (SUM) and Morten Tønnessen from Minding Animals Norway, who have allied themselves with the Council for Animal Ethics and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and The Norwegian Veterinary Institute.

Report from first Norwegian animal ethics conference

"Den løynlege maten" (The /hidden/ food) is a report, written by Minding Animals Norway board member Frode Bakke Bjerkevik, from the first Norwegian animal ethics conference, Dyreetikkonferansen, which was arranged September 21st (by Kristian Bjørkdahl of SUM, Ann Margaret Grøndahl of Norway's Council for Animal Ethics, and myself of Minding Animals Norway). It has been published by Salongen, a Norwegian website covering philosophy and the history of ideas.

SAMKUL decision on PERLAR etc. delayed

The research program SAMKUL (Samfunnsutviklingens kulturelle forutsetninger - the cultural preconditions of societal development) was supposed to give notice about what research projects get funding at some point in October. However, the process is delayed and decisions will only be taken November 22nd-23rd.

The prospective research project "Perceptions of Animal Agency: Large Predators and other Cultured Animals" (PERLAR), with Paul Thibault as Project Manager and myself as Assistant Project Manager, is one of 138 applications. 12-14 projects are expected to get funding.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Term "Umwelt transition" applied in landscape studies chapter

As I have been made aware, my 2009 article "Umwelt transitions" has been quoted in the following book chapter:
Benediktsson, Karl 2010. A Stroll through Landscapes of Sheep and Humans [176, 190, cf. 179 – Tønnessen 2009b, quoted as Tønnesen 2009]. In: Karl Benediktsson and Katrín Anna Lund (eds): Conversations with landscape, 173-191. Farnham (UK), Burlington (US): Ashgate.
Excerpt (p. 176):
There is, as Tønnesen (2009) has discussed in detail, a certain static quality to von Uexküll’s conceptualisation . His is a world where organisms and their Umwelten are a perfect match; with no consideration being given to temporal change, gradual or sudden, that might upset this harmonious whole. In a world where global environmental change is being discussed with ever more urgency, this seems more than a little quaint. Tønnesen (2009) proposes the concept of Umwelt transition to accommodate the notion of change with this set of thinking.
The notion of Umwelt transition is further applied on p. 179:
The subsequent story is well known: the vegetative character of the landscape changed drastically in the centuries following settlement (Arnalds 1987). The wood cover shrunk considerably, due to direct clearing and burning by humans as well as animal browsing pressure. Over time the unsustainability of the land use system became evident. Especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and coupled with particularly harsh climatic conditions as well as large volcanic eruptions, soil erosion reached catastrophic proportions. An Umwelt transition was taking place. Gradually, the conversation between animals and humans via landscape became less and less amicable.

Nov. 12: Arne Næss symposium with Lawrence Buell, George Monbiot and others

The webpage of, dedicated to celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Norwegian deep ecologist philosopher Arne Næss (1912-2009), has been updated with an announcement concerning this year's Arne Næss symposium. The event «Thinking Dutifully, Acting Beautifully» – Our Responsibility for a Sustainable Future, which takes place November 12th in Oslo, includes a lecture by Harvard scholar Lawrence Buell and key-note speeches by Jostein Gaarder, Eva Joly and George Monbiot.

Grading of 188 Multiple Choice exam papers

Tuesday October 30th I reported the results of my grading of 188 Multiple Choice exam papers in Examen Philosophicum, which is part of my responsibility as an Associate Professor at Department of Health Studies, University of Stavanger. 182 passed, 6 failed. The exam took place October 26th, and included 15 questions, at least 10 of which had to be correct in order to pass.

Monday, 29 October 2012

CFP: 8th NASS conference, "Sign evolution on multiple time scales"

First Call for Papers and Theme Sessions of the Eighth Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS):
Sign evolution on multiple time scales

We hereby invite submission of abstracts for oral or poster presentations for the Eighth Conference of the NordicAssociation for Semiotic Studies (NASS) to be held at the Center for Semiotics, University of Aarhus, Denmark, May 29th – 31st, 2013.

The theme of this year’s conference is the evolution of signs, and will thus – among many others – address the following questions:
  • What are the basic mechanisms and conditions for the emergence of new signs and sign systems (such as codes, notational systems, verbal and sign languages, gesture, graphical symbols, pictorial expression, etc.)?
  • To which extent should we search for these mechanisms at the level of biology, culture, cognition, phenomenological experience or interaction?
  • And what are the relevant features of signs themselves making them emerge, survive and propagate in contexts of communication?

The conference brings together international scholars from a range of disciplines each addressing these questions in relation to particular time scales ranging from biological and cultural evolution to ontogeny and online social interaction. Presentations should address aspects of how signs and sign systems emerge and develop on different time scales. Topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Sign emergence and development on an evolutionary time scale
  • Sign emergence and development on a cultural historical timescale
  • Sign emergence and development on an ontogenetic time scale
  • Sign emergence and development on online interactive time scale
  • Cultural perspectives on sign emergence and development
  • Cognitive perspectives on sign emergence and development
  • Dynamical systems perspectives on sign emergence and development
  • Phenomenological perspectives on sign emergence and development
  • Neurological perspectives on sign emergence and development
  • Biological perspectives on sign emergence and development

Invited Plenary Speakers:
Jordan Zlatev (Lund University)
Fatima Cvrckova – (Charles University, Prague)
Bruno Galantucci (Yeshiva University, NY)
Susan Goldin-Meadow (University of Chicago)
Winfried Nöth (University of Kassel)*
Luc Steels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)*

* NB: Not yet confirmed
Paper submissions:
Abstracts should be no more than 300 words and should be sent as an attachment to in doc, docx, ort or pdf format. Please do not include name or contact details in the text file. Specify in a cover mail your Title, Name, Affiliation, and whether the abstract is intended for oral or poster presentation. Please also indicate if your abstract should be considered part of a theme session (if you are taking part in organizing one) and if you would be willing to present a poster if the abstract is not accepted for oral presentation. 
Deadline:  January 31
Theme Sessions proposals:
Proposals for thematic sessions should contain an abstract of no more than 300 words describing the theme. It should also specify the name and affiliation of the organizer(s) and a list of people that would potentially like their presentation to be part of the theme session (IMPORTANT: each participant should still submit her own individual paper abstract that will go through regular peer review). The theme session proposal should be send to as an attachment in doc, docx, ort or pdf format. Please specify in a cover mail the Title, Name(s) and Affiliation(s) of the theme session organizers and the title of the theme session proposal. Theme session organizer(s) may be contacted about the potential inclusion of additional papers from general submission if these seem to fit the proposed theme.   
Deadline: December 31
Important Dates
  • October 15: First Call for Papers and Theme Session Proposals
  • December 1: Second Call for Papers and Theme Session Proposals
  • December 31: Deadline for theme session proposals
  • January 31: Deadline for abstract submission
  • March 15: Notification of acceptance
  • May 29 – May 31: Conference
Scientific Committee:
Luis E. Bruni (Aalborg University)
Jordan Zlatev (Lund University)
Göran Sonesson (Lund University)
Sara Lenninger (Lund University)
Torill Strand (University of Oslo)
Morten Tønnessen (University of Stavanger)
Riin Magnus (University of Tartu)
Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (University of Helsinki)
Tommi Vehkavaara (Tampere University)
Bergljot Kristjansdottir (University of Island)
Sigrún Margrét Guðmundsdóttir (University of Island)
Svend Østergaard (Aarhus University)
Riccardo Fusaroli (Aarhus University)
Frederik Stjernfelt (Aarhus University)

If you have any questions or comments related to the conference organization, please email Kristian Tylén:

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Second newsletter from NASS published

The second issue of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS), the NASS Letter, was released on October 19th. It has been distributed to some 200 individuals and a few semiotic institutions etc. The newsletter is edited by Inesa Sahakyan and myself. Whereas the very first newsletter, published this Spring (bottom left), was only 4 pages, the current issue (bottom right) is 15 pages.

The full no. 2 - autumn 2012 - can be read and downloaded here.

The newsletter of NASS appears twice a year (Spring and Autumn).

To subscribe (for free), or to contribute with content (e.g. academic news, upcoming events, country report, subfield report) write to

New NASS logo

The Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS) has adopted a new logo, designed by Timo Maran. The new logo has been taken into use on the NASS webpage, and the rationale behind it is described in the latest NASS newsletter (p. 2), where it has also been taken into use.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Member of Scientific Committee of NASS 8

I have been appointed a member of the Scientific Committee of the Eighth Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS), which will be named Sign Evolution on Multiple Time Scales and is convened by Kristian Tylén. My responsibility will be limited to reviewing 6-8 abstracts. The conference will take place in Aarhus, Denmark, May 29th-31st 2013.

Now permanent member of the board of UiS; by-election to be held in November

Zafer Øzgen, who was elected as member of the board of University of Stavanger (UiS) this spring, representing temporarily employed scientific staff, has gotten a new job and quit at UiS. He has therefore withdrawn from the board of UiS, which means that I (a deputy board member since August) have moved up and become a permanent member of the board of University of Stavanger (2012-2013).

Nominations for deputy board members (1. and 2.) are due November 8th; the by-election will take place November 15th-20th.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Call for General Meeting of Minding Animals Norway

As the chair of Minding Animals Norway, about a week ago I wrote the call of the board for this year's General Meeting, which will take place in Oslo September 22nd in connection with the first Animal ethics conference (Dyreetikkonferansen, September 21st) and this year's Minding Animals Norway research seminar (September 22nd). The whole call is available in Norwegian in my Norwegian language blog Utopisk Realisme.

Planning day at UiS

Thursday August 9th I took part in a planning day at the University of Stavanger with the two lecturers in nursing that I cooperate with this autumn semester in the teacher-assisted group work in Examen Philosophicum (introductory philosophy, here for nursing students). Altogether there will be 12 x 45 minutes (occurring at 5 dates) of such group work, and the 210 or so students will be divided into 24 groups.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Conference presentation PPTs available in

I have uploaded the following recent conference presentation Powerpoint files to my profile at - all presented in Tartu this July:

Philosophy lecture at UiS I

On Monday 20th of August I gave the first lecture in Examen Philosophicum (introductory philosophy) this autumn semester (at University of Stavanger's Department of Health Studies), with some 150 nursing students present. I lectured for 4 x 45 minutes.

The topics were:
  1. What is philosophy? Views on Man ("menneskesyn" in Norwegian). What does it mean to act like a nurse?
  2. About the arrangements in Ex.phil.
  3. What is science? What does it mean to think like a nurse?
  4. Announcement of exam questions

September 12th: Founding meeting of International Society for the Study of Interactivity, Language and Cognition (ISSILC)

On September 12th at 6.30 pm, during the 1st International Conference on Interactivity, Language and Cognition (CILC - Odense, Denmark September 12-14 - see full programme here), a founding meeting of the International Society for the Study of Interactivity, Language and Cognition (ISSILC) will be held. The last few weeks I have been in correspondence with Sune Steffensen, Stephen Cowley and Paul Thibault concerning the new learned society's constitution, providing other constitutions as examples and giving input and feedback regarding the ISSILC's draft constitution, which will be treated at the founding meeting/General Assembly of ISSILC. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

CILC talk scheduled for September 13th

My upcoming talk "Beyond the anthropocentric (aka linguistic) mistake: Languaging as if nature mattered", to be presented at the 1st International Conference on Interactivity, Language and Cognition (CILC) (Odense - Denmark, September 12-14), has been scheduled for Thursday September 13th at 16.15-16.45, as part of the session "Human interactivity in a natural world: Lessons from animals, genes and biosemiosis". The conference is hosted by the University of Southern Denmark.

The full program is available here.

UiS profile page updated

I have updated my profile page at the website of the University of Stavanger by adding a few links and revising the overview of my competence and research interests.

Deputy member of the board of University of Stavanger

Since August 1st I've been a deputy member of the board of the University of Stavanger, representing temporary staff (here is a list in Norwegian of all board members - English page has not been updated). I will be in this position until July 31st 2013.

Changes made by hand at Leigo farmstead

The picture below shows me at Leigo farmstead, Estonia, during the 12th Gathering in Biosemiotics, while I take notes in the margins and make changes by hand in the draft constitution of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS). Most of my suggestions were eventually implemented. The photo was taken by Sara Cannizzaro. Her photoblog is called Strange Love.

See also:

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Academia papers on Jakob von Uexküll

Here's a link to papers on Jakob von Uexküll. The 18 papers listed include 5 of my own doing:

  • "Outline of an Uexküllian bio-ontology"
  • "Umwelt ethics" (57 views)
  • "Umwelt-Forskning Og Ontologi: Skisse Av En Bio-Ontologi Basert På Jakob Von Uexkülls Umwelt-Lære" (my Norwegian language master thesis)
  • "Steps to a semiotics of being" (69 views)
  • "Umwelt transitions: Uexküll and environmental change"

Semester opening and more at University of Stavanger

Tuesday August 14th I was present in the audience in Tjodhallen during the official semester opening at the University of Stavanger. The program included speeches by rector Marit Boyesen, mayor of Stavanger Christine Sagen, and others, stand up, and musical performances. The main speech was given by Ketil Solvik-Olsen, a member of parliament who is also the deputy Chair of Norway's right-wing party Fremskrittspartiet (The progress party). Incidentally Solvik-Olsen referred to Stavanger's role as the Norwegian "oil capital", and suggested that he was sure there were "philosophers in the room who would think that simply praising the oil industry [or something to that effect] was very cynical." Sic.

After the opening ceremony I proceeded to a master degree meeting at the Department of Health Studies, where the agenda concerned the soon-to-come opening of the master program for 1st year students, and the inflow of students.

Fun fact

Monday, 6 August 2012

Program for Norwegian animal ethics conference launched

The Norwegian "Dyreetikkonferansen" (The animal ethics conference), which is being organised for the first time this year - with the topic "The animal behind the food and the human behind the consumer" - has today launched its program. I am one of the three persons in the team of organisers, representing Minding Animals Norway.

The program includes these contributors (researchers marked with an *, politicians with **, activists with ***):

  • Grethe Fossli**
  • Svenn Arne Lie*
  • Svein Flåtten**
  • Yngve Ekern
  • Andreas Viestad
  • Runar Døving*
  • Per Olaf Lundteigen**
  • Geir Grosberg
  • Ole Fjetland
  • Johnny Ødegård
  • Arild Hermstad***
  • Live Kleveland***
  • Cecilie Mejdell*
* r

Friday, 3 August 2012

New ISBS constitution and board: About the election drama

Yesterday I posted "New ISBS constitution and board: About a backroom deal", and here, as promised yesterday, comes "New ISBS constitution and board: About the election drama". See also the documents on the pages of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS), namely a brief report from the General Assemby of the ISBS held on July 20 in Tartu, Estonia (under the 12th gathering in biosemiotics) and the new ISBS constitution.

This piece of paper was prepared, but not submitted anywhere, since our alternative proposal for members of the board was presented orally and all names proposed written on the black board in the auditorium where the General Assembly took place. All three of us - Gerald Ostdiek, Joachim de Beule and me, were up there. It was Gerald who got the idea a couple of hours earlier - that we should propose a new board consisting only of 'younger' scholars, given that arguably the true strength of a group of learned people depends on their ability to transfer power to a new generation. Generational transitions, in other words, and how smooth they are, are a measure of organisational success. The background in ISBS' case was also that all of the few who had been involved in recent conflicts were of the elder generation (including founders of the field of biosemiotics). During dinner that day (July 20th) I decided to support Gerald's idea, and the two of us made the list shown above. Straight before the General Assembly Joachim joined forces with us.

We were first of all motivated by the fact that the old board would only allow full lists of candidates, not individual nominations. Individual nominations would by far be preferable. But without that option, we thought the General Assembly should at the very least be given a choice, so that we could have a proper election, rather than just rubber-stamping the pre-made proposal of the board (which, notably, was only made public at the General Assemby). All this secrecy did not benefit anyone - and certainly not the members' trust in the board.

As can be read in Sara Cannizzaro's report from the General Assembly, the board's proposal ("List A") won with 37 votes, versus 12 votes for our "List B" and 10 blank votes. This implies that the board's proposal got 63% of the votes, our proposal 20% and that 17% voted blank.

Were we disappointed? Perhaps a bit silent at first. Given that Anton Markoš came out against our proposal (we had hoped for his support, since he had talked about the need for new people), as did Timo Maran (anything else would have been disloyal, given that he was nominated as Vice-President by the old board), and that only Marcello Barbieri of the biggest names explicitly supported us, we could not have expected many more votes than we got. But then, towards the end of the General Assembly and after the meeting, we all realised how the mood in the room had changed, after half an hour of presentation and discussion of our alternative nominations (where, notably, seven out of eleven people were in both proposals). To the better, for sure. So we thought our primary objectives had been achieved: To give people a proper election, to make the ISBS a little more democratic, and not least to give discontent a chance to be uttered and made visible.

Mentions and questions at 12th gathering in biosemiotics

At the 12th gathering in biosemiotics (Tartu, July 17-21) I/my work was mentioned or alluded to at the following occasions:
  • in Stephen Cowley's presentation (July 18) "Interactivity: Origins and consequences"
  • in Nelly Mäekivi's presentation (July 19) "Communication in zoos and communicative zoo"
  • under closing remarks (July 21), when Luis Emilio Bruni commented on behalf of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, where I am the Secretary and he the President
I asked questions under two presentations:
  • Nelly Mäekivi's presentation (July 19) "Communication in zoos and communicative zoo"
  • Daniel Mayer's presentation (July 20) "Hymenomorphism", which I found to be beautiful
See also:

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tartu drawings, July 2012

New ISBS constitution and board: About a backroom deal

The International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS) has now uploaded its new constitution and a brief report from its first ever General Meeting, held in Tartu, Estonia, on July 20th. Since I played a role with regard to both the new statutes and at the General Meeting, here's a brief report from my side.

A draft of the constitution (the old board's proposal) was distributed on July 18th, the day after the 12th gathering in biosemiotics started. It had several flaws. I wrote to Jesper Hoffmeyer, the president of the ISBS, and Kalevi Kull of Tartu, about my concerns, and also talked with Sara Cannizzaro, who acted as the ISBS' Vice-president after Don Favareau stepped down. We agreed that Jesper, Sara and I should meet informally to see whether we could sort things out ahead of the General Meeting, and so we did, on the afternoon of July 18th (at Leigo farmstead). After half an hour's talk we agreed that Jesper would go through my concerns point by point and see what he could change.

On the morning of the day after, on the 19th, I received a revised draft where only one or none substantial change had been made. I then replied that I would raise my concerns at the General Meeting after all. Later that afternoon Kalevi, my former supervisor, came over during dinner to negotiate. Practically all my suggestions had now been incorporated into the board's constitution draft, and I gladly approved of it. The changes made due to this included (in addition to making a few points clearer or more accurate):
 - that the board's annual report is to be presented to members, not just the board itself - at an annual General Meeting (and indeed that annual General Meetings will be held)
 - that a rule stipulating that members at elections "will give a vite 'for' or 'against' each candidate" was dropped (a rule I feared would trigger conflict) in favour of the more common positive/blank voting
 - that the constitution may only be changed at General Meetings, not by the board

I am happy I thus contributed to making the ISBS a little more democratic and transparent. But as the decision-making process described above illustrates, this learned society still has some way to go in terms of being inclusive (there were complaints at the General Meeting about the board's attempts to avoid discussion, and the decision that no substantial changes to the constitution could be proposed at the General Meeting).

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Google Group to discuss annual Nordic HAS conference

This email was distributed to some 20 people today:
Dear all,

it was a pleasure to see so many of you (us) at our Nordic Human-Animal Studies networking session in Utrecht, during the Minding Animals conference. First, here are some links:
* Nordic HAS Network: write to [Tora Holmberg] to join email list
* Dyreetikkonferansen (Oslo, September 21) (register here)
* The research seminar "Dyr, menneske og mat - dyreetikk i landbruket" (Oslo, September 22 - abstracts due 31/8)
* Nordic HAS portal (all suggestions welcome)

Most importantly, at the informal meeting in Utrecht we came up with the idea of initiating an annual, rotating Nordic Human-Animal Studies conference, perhaps starting in 2013. In order to facilitate the discussion about how this can be done, I have established a Google Group, "Nordic HAS conference". The group's email address is [...]. Inside Google Groups you can choose how often you want to receive emails. Questions for discussion include:
* Who are willing and able to organise the first conference, in 2013?
* How should choice of venue routinely be made? (cf. below)
* Do we need to organise a Nordic NGO, or a network of established national NGOs and networks?
* Is there so much interest in Dyreetikkonferansen and the associated research seminar event (see above) that we could hold a planning meeting in Oslo 21/9 or 22/9?

Feel free to pass this email on to others. The recipients of this initial email will be invited to join the Google Group, others can join as well.

My best,

Morten Tønnessen

Webpage for Norwegian animal ethics conference

The forthcoming conference Dyreetikkonferansen (the animal ethics conference - to be held in Oslo, Norway, September 21st) now has a website: You can read about the conference (in Norwegian) here and register here.

Dyreetikkonferansen aims to be an annual conference. The topic this year is "The animal behind the food and the human behind the consumer". I am part of the organising team (via Minding Animals Norway).

Abstract: "Beyond the anthropocentric (aka linguistic) mistake: Languaging as if nature mattered"

This is my abstract for the 1st International Conference on Interactivity, Language and Cognition (Odense, September 12-14).


Beyond the anthropocentric (aka linguistic) mistake: Languaging as if nature mattered
Morten Tønnessen

“How easy it is for inherited concepts to stifle our senses!”
Abram 2010

“[F]orgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:34

Daniel Everett suggests that discourse entails dark cognitive and cultural matter, namely what is not said but is still somehow in discourse. How can we study the «dark matter» of our enlightened worlds? Can we escape the tunnel-sight on language?

To simple-minded humans (philosophers included), language largely constitutes reality. And yet language is free to evolve at the inkling of an eye, the hunch of a confused mind. Without a doubt, language does in many senses open the world up to us – but it also conditions and constrains us. Homo sapiens sapiens is a creature that organises ecological reality in linguistic categories – both perceptually and behaviourally. It is very “natural”, therefore, to commit the anthropocentric mistake, namely to reason (erroneously) that human reality is practically all there is. We tend to think in terms of language, and in terms of language, all is language. All is human language – all is human.

What we do not realize, when committing this mistake, is that it is not only our species that judges, that categorises, that is different, and so forth. It takes a brilliant (and somewhat ludicrous) mind to differentiate between the world as we see it and the world as it may be beyond (underneath, beneath) language. The anthropocentric – or indeed linguistic – mistake, then, consists in mistaking human reality for reality as such. Misjudging the nature of reality, we misjudge our nature – living nature – human nature. In consequence, even our own distinctive nature is obscured. Is there a way out of this ‘house of language’?

Perhaps there is. I suggest that language rather than being external to the human Umwelt (von Uexküll), as fellow biosemioticians Sebeok and Hoffmeyer have suggested, is internal to it. If so, then in a sense language is perception (and action) – and often perception (and action) is language. If cognition is situated, embodied, extended and distributed, then we must be able to be “thinking with animals” (Daston and Mitman (eds) 2005) in a literal sense. In fact, aren’t we already? Examples to this effect will be provided, demonstrating that we are indeed enmeshed in a cultural meshwork (Thibault 2011) – which was never merely human – as well as in a natural meshwork.

Abram, David 2010. The Discourse of the Birds. Biosemiotics 3(3): 263-275.
Daston, Lorraine and Mitman, Gregg (eds) 2005. Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism. New York: Columbia University Press.
Thibault, Paul 2011. First-Order Languaging Dynamics and Second-Order Language: The Distributed Language View. Ecological Psychology 23: 1–36.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Festschrift to Kalevi Kull: Contents, university press presentation

The Festschrift to Kalevi Kull (cf. previous posts on my contributions and the public announcement of the Festschrift) is published by Tartu University Press. This is how the book is presented on their webpage:
The collection of essays dedicated to the 60th birthday of Kalevi Kull, Professor of Biosemiotics at the University of Tartu, comprises twenty innovative articles in biosemiotics and nearby fields. Contributions have grown out of authors’ unpublished research materials, unconventional approaches or sketches of articles. The list of authors includes internationally renowned biosemioticians, Kalevi Kull’s co-thinkers and students. Among topics shared by many articles are attention to the borders of biosemiotics while pointing to the connectedness of the subject matter of biosemiotics and the human cultural sphere, emphasis on the dialogic nature of academic theories as well as human lives, and focus on the identity of biosemiotics and its ethical implications. The collection includes a bibliography of Kalevi Kull’s academic writings in English.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Aleksei Turovski, and is sold online for as little as 10 Euro plus postage.

Contributing authors:
  • Kati Lindström, Riin Magnus, Timo Maran and Morten Tønnessen (introduction)
  • Donald Favareau
  • Anton Markoš
  • Myrdene Anderson
  • Yari Neuman
  • Morten Tønnessen
  • João Queiroz
  • Alexei A. Sharov
  • Terrence W. Deacon
  • João Queiroz, Frederik Stjernfelt and Charbel Niño El-Hani
  • Almo Farina
  • Søren Brier
  • Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio
  • Ekaterina Velmezova
  • Winfried Nöth
  • Claus Emmeche
  • Paul Cobley
  • Timo Maran
  • Riin Magnus
  • Jaan Valsiner
  • Jesper Hoffmeyer
  • PLUS a bibliography of Kalevi Kull's scientific publications in English

Updated brief academic CV

I have updated my "Brief academic CV" (see right margin below). The new, updated and shorter version reads like this:

  1. Associate professor (25% > 100%) at University of Stavanger (Department of Health Studies) in 2012
  2. Doctoral degree from University of Tartu (Department of Semiotics), Estonia. Title of PhD thesis (defended December 15th 2011): "Umwelt Transition and Uexküllian Phenomenology. An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management"
  3. A main researcher in Timo Maran´s research project (2009-2012) "Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations" ( ETF/ESF 7790)
  4. Main organizer of the Tartu workshops on the semiotics/phenomenology of perception (Feb. 2009), and co-organizer of the international conference "Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations" (April 2011)
  5. Guest-editor with Kati Lindström of special issue of Biosemiotics (3(3)), 'Semiotics of Perception' (2010), and with Riin Magnus and Nelly Mäekivi of special issue of Hortus Semioticus (no. 6), 'Semiotics of nature' (2010)
  6. Editor with Timo Maran, Kati Lindström and Riin Magnus of "Semiotics in the Wild: Essays in Honour of Kalevi Kull on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday" (Tartu University Press 2012)
  7. Editor with Kadri Tüür of "The Semiotics of Animal Representations" (Rodopi, forthcoming), and editor with Guri Larsen and Ragnhild Sollund of the Norwegian HAS anthology "Hvem er villest i landet her?" (Spartacus, forthcoming in 2013)
  8. Member of the editorial board of the journal Biosemiotics
  9. Chair of Minding Animals Norway, secretary of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, supplementary representative in the board of University of Stavanger

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Contributions in Festschrift to Kalevi Kull - references

I have two contributions on the Festschrift to Kalevi Kull, which was launched on July 17th, namely the introduction and the text "Introducing semetics" (I further took part in compiling the bibliography of Kalevi Kull's scientific publications in English). Here are the references:

  1. Maran, Timo; Lindström, Kati; Magnus, Riin; Tønnessen, Morten (eds) 2012. Semiotics in the Wild: Essays in Honour of Kalevi Kull on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday. Tartu: Tartu University Press. 212 pp.
  2. Lindström, Kati; Magnus, Riin; Maran, Timo; Tønnessen, Morten 2012. Kalevi Kull and the rewilding of biosemiotics: Introduction. In Maran, Timo; Lindström, Kati; Magnus, Riin; Tønnessen, Morten (eds), Semiotics in the Wild: Essays in Honour of Kalevi Kull on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday, Tartu: Tartu University Press, 7-13.
  3. Tønnessen, Morten 2012. Introducing semetics. In Maran, Timo; Lindström, Kati; Magnus, Riin; Tønnessen, Morten (eds), Semiotics in the Wild: Essays in Honour of Kalevi Kull on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday, Tartu: Tartu University Press, 47-54.

Festschrift to Kalevi Kull presented at 12th gathering in biosemiotics

Around 18 o'clock on Tuesday July 17th, at the end of the first session of the 12th gathering in biosemiotics, in Tartu, Estonia, Timo Maran, Kati Lindström, Riin Magnus and I presented the book Semiotics in the Wild: Essays in Honour of Kalevi Kull on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday to Kalevi and the public at large (with perhaps 70-80 people present).

The four of us are the editors of this volume, which features 20 short contributions written by biosemioticians, an introduction, and a bibliography of Kalevi Kull's scientific publications in English (1977-2012, and counting). The book is published by Tartu University Press.

Presentation held at 12th gathering in biosemiotics

On Saturday the 21st of July I presented my paper "On the notion of induced semiosis - with emphasis on anthropogenic semiosis" at the 12th gathering in biosemiotics, in Tartu, Estonia. There were some 50-60 people present. My paper was the first of three on an Uexküllian theme, in the very last session of the gathering.

The notion of "induced semiosis" was introduced by Alexei Sharov in 2010, and I consider it a valuable addition to biosemiotic vocabulary.

Presentation held at Language and Life seminar

On Tuesday 17th of July I presented my paper "A foray into the hinterland of language: In search of the dark matter of our enlightened worlds" at the seminar "Language and life", which was convened by Stephen Cowley and served as a pre-conference event associated with the 12th gathering in biosemiotics. Due to several cancellations Stephen and I were the only ones who presented, but there were also group discussions. My presentation lasted for some half hour, and was followed by half an hour of discussion. Around 40 people were present. This was the first official activity of the Language and Life research cluster in the Distributed Language Group.

Roundtable chaired at Biosemiotics and culture seminar

On Monday 16th of July I also chaired the concluding roundtable of the seminar "Biosemiotics and the study of culture", for 1 hour and 20 minutes, with Nelly Mäekivi. Besides general discussion, Katya Mandoki and Kalevi Kull gave introductory remarks and Timo Maran summed up.

Presentation held at Biosemiotics and culture seminar

On Monday 16th of July I presented my paper "In the gaze of the other: Describingcultural affordances by conducting comparative Umwelt mapping in animal studies" in the seminar "Biosemiotics and the study of culture", convened by Timo Maran, in Tartu. The seminar was a pre-conference seminar associated with the 12th gathering in biosemiotics. There were around 30 people present. Each talk was devoted some 40 minutes including discussion.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Monograph named Being and Sign

My monograph in-progress, in the wake of my PhD dissertation "Umwelt transition: Uexküllian phenomenology - An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management" (cf. post of September 19th 2011 - and note revised time schedule), has been named Being and Sign: Umwelt Theory for the 21st Century

It was on July 22nd, in Tallinn, that I named it thus, on my way back from the 12th Gathering in Biosemiotics. The title is meant to refer to 1) phenomenology, 2) (bio)semiotics, and 3) Umwelt theory/Uexküll.

CFP: Non-human in social sciences (III)

A third conference (November 17-18) is upcoming in the non-humans in anthropology series in Prague, established by Marco Stella and colleagues. The call for papers, with deadline September 10th, is to be found here.

Due to my wife's pregnancy I'll unfortunately not be able to come this time either.

Wolf play video

My video clip "Wolf play" on YouTube is regaining frequent views somewhat again, after it spiralled to ca. 30.000 views ahead of last Christmas, only to nosedive at New Year. Currently it has been viewed 33.144 times, 1.457 of which the last 30 days.

Views per day, the last 365 days.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Minding Animals Norway invites to Nordic Networking Session in Utrecht

Minding Animals Norway
Nordic Neighbours HAS session at the Minding Animals International Conference in Utrecht

Minding Animals Norway invites all of our Nordic neighbours with an interest in Human-Animal Studies to join us for an informal networking session. We would like to meet our neighbours – it’s good to know each other and learn what we are all doing! Please be welcome to join us at 13.00 – 14.00 Thursday 5th of July in room Ruppert 121 at the conference venue.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Talk at HAS rhetorics workshop slightly rescheduled

My upcoming presentasion "Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene - a perspective on the global semiocide", to be presented at next week's animal rhetorics workshop in Oslo, has been slightly rescheduled, to 15.45-16.15 on May 29th.

See also:
Talk at HAS rhetorics workshop scheduled for May 29
Abstract: "Animals craving for meaning in the Anthropocene - a perspective on the global semiocide"

Animals and philosophy roundtable scheduled

The Animals and philosophy roundtable (for which John Hadley is the convenor, and I am the scribe) at the upcoming Minding Animals conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands, has been scheduled for July 4th at 13.00-14.00. In the programme it is referred to as "Study circle discussion". It will take place in a room called Ruppert Rood.

See full programme for the Utrecht conference here.

See also: 

Minding Animals presentations scheduled for July 4th

Both of my presentations at the second international Minding Animals conference have been scheduled for the first full conference day, Wednesday July 4th. 

"The contemporary symbolic construction of Norway's big bad wolf" has been scheduled for 14.00-15.30, partaking in the session "Public perception of animals II" (chaired by Jan van der Valk, room: Ruppert Blauw).

"Biosemiotics and animal ethics" has been scheduled for 16.00-17.30, partaking in the session "Animal ethics: New developments II" (no chair announced, room: Ruppert 040).

Each of these papers will be alloted 17 minutes for presentation and 5 minutes for questions from the audience and discussion, I've been informed.

See full programme for the Utrecht conference here.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Exam assignments designed for UiS

This week I have designed - written - exam assignments for the University of Stavanger (UiS), a multiple choice test and a home exam (two alternative assignments, each divided into A, B and C) respectively. The MC test will take place on May 25th, the home exam May 31st to June 7th. Both are in the subject of Examen Philosophicum (introductory philosophy), which I teach for nursing students - and both are socalled "continuation exams", for students who did not attend or failed at the regular exam.

Grading for UiA conducted and in process

Yesterday I graded 6 papers (from a school exam) in the subject of Examen Facultatum (Ex.Fac.) for the University of Agder (UiA). This was, as far as I understand, the lot that had to be graded by two - with me as the second scholar.

Yesterday I further picked up the 163 exam papers (home exam) I will grade in Examen Philosophicum, for the same university. Got started yesterday and continued today, with 33 papers graded so far.

Unlike much other work I've done for UiA, this work pays really well. For the latter category of exam papers, I get paid for 2 hours for each exam paper - in total for 326 hours (plus 4 hours of preparation).

BranchOut profile

I have registered at BranchOut, a social network for academics. 

Given that I only have a contract for this year for the time being, I'm in principle looking for job opportunities of interest, preferably in Southern Norway.

MA2 scribe instructions received

A few days back I received the instructions for convenors and scribes of lunchtime roundtables at the second international Minding Animals conference, which is to take place in Utrect, the Netherlands, July 4-6. I am the scribe of the Animals and Philosophy roundtable, scheduled for July 4th. According to the memo, scribes will 1) collect a roll of participants/people present, 2) take a short set of minutes detailing decisions made, and 3) "assist the Convenor [in my case John Hadley] where necessary, particularly in coordinating the publication of the refereed academic paper in the ISEE [International Society for Environmental Ethics] Newsletter". Publications from the various roundtables are to appear 2012-2015.

See also:
Minding Animals Norway
Minding Animals International

Registration for 12th Gathering in Biosemiotics

Some days back I registered for the 12th Gathering in Biosemiotics, which is to take place in Tartu July 17-21. I also registered for both of the two pre-conference events: The seminar "Biosemiotics and the Study of Culture" on July 16th and the "Language and life" event on July 17th. 

See also:

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

UiB's presentation of panel on nature view

Here's a link to the University of Bergen's (UiB) presentation of last week's panel discussion at Studia bookstore on nature view and practice (see also more extensive post on the panel). Titles of our intros were not included. I am presented as Associate professor, University of Stavanger.