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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

"Umwelt transitions" paper cited in Kiiroja MA

My article
Tønnessen, M. 2009. Umwelt transitions: Uexküll and environmental change. Biosemiotics 2(1): 47–64.
is referred to in

Kiiroja, Laura 2014. The zoosemiotics of socialization: Case-study in socializing red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Tangen Animal Park, Norway. Master thesis. Tartu: University of Tartu. Available online:

"Umwelt theory which, in this thesis, is predominantly based on the works of Jakob von Uexküll and Morten Tønnessen." [p. 6] 
"While Uexküll claimed the most important functional circles in most animals’ Umwelts to be the circles of physical medium (i.e. the surrounding environment), food, enemy, and sex (Uexküll 1982: 67), it might be more adequate to adjust those circles as physical medium, food, enemy and partner (Tønnessen 2009: 54). This adjustment is important when considering the various kinds of social relationships besides the reproductive ones, that function as partnerships in the animal’s Umwelt. At least in a zoo environment, these other kinds of partnership obtain a comparable value for the animal as the relationship with a potential breeding partner has.
Perhaps, the importance of Umwelt apprehension in the zoo animals is most adequately described by Norwegian philosopher and biosemiotician Morten Tønnessen. Tønnessen has brought out the concept of ontological niche, being inspired by Danish biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer’s theory of semiotic niche. While Hoffmeyer’s semiotic niche involves all the interpretive challenges offered for the animal by its ecological niche (Hoffmeyer 2008: 13), then Tønnessen’s ontological niche involves the set of the animal’s active relationships at the current moment of the history of nature (Tønnessen 2009: 54). The ontological niche, therefore, determines the area in the phenomenal world occupied by the animal. Here, Tønnessen has depicted the ontological niche as phenomenal fields, where one animal’s phenomenal fields overlap with those of the other animals with whom it is in interaction. (Tønnessen 2009: 54) Such ontological map sufficiently describes the possibilities of human-animal relationships (as well as animal-animal relationships). For facilitative reasons, it must be realized that in order to establish positive human-animal relationships, man has to “move” from the enemy phenomenal field (functional circle) of the animal to the partner phenomenal field (functional circle). It seems to the author that such Umwelt reconstruction is not as simple, but includes transition-phases of “rather negative significane”, “neutral significance”, “rather positive significance” of people, before people in general obtain a meaning-carrier of a partner in the animal’s Umwelt. To make it even more complicated, it so happens that some people, who have a strong positive relationship with the animal, are considered as partners, where unfamiliar people could still, by default, carry a meaning of an enemy. The importance of Umwelt reconstruction (with a goal to change the meaning-carrier of people in general) is crucial for captive animal welfare, and, in the opinion of the author, should be consciously aimed in zoos, where different human-animal encounters are inevitable. Socialization is the part of animal welfare programme, which predominantly solves this problem." [p. 25-26] 
"Only in means of positive experience is it possible to move man’s meaning-carrier from the phenomenal field (or functional circle) of enemy to the phenomenal field of partner in the animal’s Umwelt (Tønnessen 2009: 54)." [p. 68]

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