Below is my revised abstract for the forthcoming conference "Semiotics of hybrid natures: Anthropogenic ecosystems, multi modalities, transformed umwelten" (Tartu November 8-10th), where I will give a keynote lecture.
Current human ecology in light of Umwelt theory
Associate professor of philosophy, University of Stavanger
Umwelt theory is an expression of von Uexküll´s subjective biologyand as such it is usually applied in analysis of individual animals. However, Umwelt theory is fundamentally relational, and therefore also suitable for analysis of more complex wholes. Furthermore, depending on the level of generalization, Umwelt theory is also suitable for analysis of behavioral and experiential dynamics at a group level. A significant methodological advantage of Umwelt theory is that it is applicable with regard to both human and non-human experience and action within one of the same framework.
In our age, which many have come to call «the Anthropocene», the human species dominates many ecosystems, and has established a manifold of tightly controlled production systems and resource streams involving or affecting living creatures in both in-door and outdoor environments. In the Anthropocene discourse, the debate rages as to what level of human control is appropriate.
Big picture-notions and planetary perspectives are important, but so is the subjective animal perspective that von Uexküll emphasized. To what extent can these be combined? In this presentation, I will explore to what extent ecosemiotics can be applied in analysis of global human ecology. I will do this by portraying the human species as a global speciesthat gives rise to multiple ecologies built around our presence. I will further discuss climate change in its relation to changing patterns of biodiversity and animal behavior.
One can hardly overestimate the effect the human species has even on wildlife, both wittingly and unwittingly. Towards many species, we behave like an unsustainable super-predator, and we reserve a lot of land for our affiliated species. We furthermore affect the experience and behaviour of animals by causing environmental changes in land, water and air, by influencing prey densities and the occurrence of natural enemies, etc.
In the course of this presentation, I will apply notions such as Umwelt transition, Umwelt trajectory, Umwelt aggregate, andUmwelt alignment, in an attempt to outline some of the most important characteristics of contemporary human ecology. To understand our changing relations to living beings and nature, we must be aware of the different forms relations can take on e.g. for wild, liminal and domesticated animals.
To avoid getting lost in the semiosphere, I will anchor some of my analysis in a case study of human–animal relations in Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Central Amazonas. This is a seasonal floodplain forest area surrounded by rivers in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. I will investigate human–human and human–animal interaction in the reserve, with a main focus on indigenous communities and their relations to two primate species, namely the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) and the black-headed squirrel monkey (Saimiri vanzolinii).
Morten Tønnessen (born 1976) is Associate professor of philosophy at University of Stavanger´s Department of social studies. He has worked with Umwelt theory since his Master degree (University of Oslo 2002), and conducted his doctoral studies at University of Tartu (2011). Tønnessen has published extensively within biosemiotics and human-animal studies, and is currently President of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies and Main Editor-in-Chief of Biosemiotics. Academic (b)log: http://UtopianRealism.blogspot.com.