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Monday, 2 March 2015

Abstract for NASS IX: "The future Umwelten of wolves, sheep and people in Scandinavia"

I have just composed and submitted the abstract below to the organisers of the 9th conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies (NASS) (Tartu, August 17-20).


The future Umwelten of wolves, sheep and people in Scandinavia

By Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger 

Paper proposal submitted to the theme session “The study of future umwelten: umwelt futurology”


In Scandinavia, wolf management has been surrounded by conflict ever since the return of the grey wolf about a generation ago. While the presence of wolves is perceived to be in conflict with hunting practices, such as the use of free-roaming hunting dogs, in both Sweden and Norway, in Norway the “wolf wars” are by the general public especially associated with sheep´s grazing in outer pastures. In the Norwegian context, the wolf has become a symbol of large predators in general (which in Norway include brown bears, lynx and wolverines), and a scapegoat for certain societal developments that threaten traditional, small-scale husbandry practices (Tønnessen 2011).

In this paper, I will sketch selected future scenarios for the Umwelten of wolves, sheep and people by making use of the Umwelt theory of Jakob von Uexküll (e.g. Uexküll 1956 [1934/1940]; cf. also the concise, thorough and critical scientific monograph Brentari 2015) in combination with various future projections and scenarios from other fields.  These will include demographical projections, scenarios for climate change, trends related to the industrialization of agriculture in Scandinavia, and assumptions about future land use and husbandry practices. This paper will focus on developments in a generational perspective, until year 2100 or so.

In the scope of the presentation, I aim to outline a mainstream, “business as usual” scenario as well as an alternative, more preferable scenario. One of the basic assumptions of this paper is that in order to ascertain that conservation efforts are successful in the long run, we must understand the cultural semiotics, whether local or global, underpinning the symbolicity of the wolf. Aspects of the wolf´s symbolicity are ancient and go thousands of years back – these in effect constitute a quite stable and resistant cultural imagery.  Whenever the wolf´s symbolicity is characteristically modern, on the other hand, societal developments in the 21st century will likely change the way we think about wolves in the future.

Acknowledgement: This work has been carried out thanks to the support of the research project Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural Mediation and Semiotic Analysis (EEA Norway Grants/Norway Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 under project contract no EMP151).

Brentari, Carlo 2015. Jakob von Uexküll: The Discovery of the Umwelt Between Biosemiotics and Theoretical Biology (Biosemiotics 9). Dordrecht: Springer.
Tønnessen, Morten 2011. Umwelt Transition and Uexküllian Phenomenology – An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management (= Dissertationes Semioticae Universitatis Tartuensis 16). Doctoral dissertation. Tartu: Tartu University Press. Introduction available online.
von Uexküll, J. (1956 [1934/1940]). Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Bedeutungslehre. Hamburg: Rowohlt.

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