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Sunday, 13 October 2013

EASLCE abstract (Tartu): "Animals qua sentient beings vs. animals qua resources"

This abstract has, some three days back, been submitted to the conference Framing Nature: Signs, Stories, and Ecologies of Meaning (The European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and the Environment (EASLCE) biennial conference), to be held in Tartu, Estonia, April 29th - May 3rd 2014:
Animals qua sentient beings vs. animals qua resources
A critical reading of the mentions of animals in Norwegian political party programs

Morten Tønnessen
Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Stavanger
Chair of Minding Animals Norway

Inspired by Stibbe 2012, this paper presents the main findings of a simple linguistic study of the programs for the parliamentary term 2013-2017 of Norway’s nine biggest political parties. The corpus consists of 12 programs, since three of the parties operate with two programs, one focused on principles and the other on more practical questions. The study is divided into two parts, a word/morpheme frequency study, involving 23 entries with altogether 28 search terms (including “dyr” [animal], “dyreetikk” [animal ethics], “dyrevelferd” [animal welfare], “fisk” [fish], “fugl” [bird]), “rovdyr” [predator(s)] and a number of common animals) and a morpheme occurrence study. The latter results in complete overviews over the vocabulary applied in these political programs containing the morphemes “dyr” [animal], “rein” [reindeer] and “fisk” [fish].

The findings of the second part of the analysis show that the three mentioned morphemes are often included in wordings that imply a systematic omission of basic aspects of animal life and behaviour. In particular, the morphemes “fisk” [fish] and “rein” [reindeer] are predominantly, in fact almost exclusively, to be found in conceptual structures that constitute an objectification of animals, usually by reducing them to economic resources. This observation is consistent with one of the findings of the first part of the study, namely that “fisk” [fish], which is economically important in Norway, is mentioned some 300 times altogether in the corpus, whereas “fugl” [bird] is mentioned only 3 times. Even when applied as a word, “fisk” [fish] rarely refers to fish as living, sentient beings, but most often rather to fish products and governmental management of fisheries.

There are a few instances of statements connecting animal welfare and the like to the fishy vocabulary, but there is otherwise little correlation between the positive statements about animal ethics etc. on the one hand and the use of language whenever animals are mentioned elsewhere in the party programs on the other. The analysis thus shows that the choices of words that have been made in formulating the parties' policies for this parliamentary term in sum reveal a deep-seated anthropocentrism which stands in direct contrast to the good intentions, officially shared by several of the analyzed parties, of getting animal ethics higher up on the political agenda.

Stibbe, Arran. 2012. Animals Erased: Discourse, Ecology, and Reconnection with the Natural World. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
* This presentation is supported by the research project "Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural Mediation and Semiotic Analysis" (EEA Norway Grants EMP 151, 2013-2016).

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