Saturday, 10 November 2018

Abstract for NASS XI: "Umwelt trajectories revisited: Anticipating the societal transformation required to solve the environmental crisis in the 21s century"

I have just composed and submitted the abstract below for NASS XI, "Anticipation and change".


TitleUmwelt trajectories revisited: Anticipating the societal transformation required to solve the environmental crisis in the 21s century

Abstract: Two great challenges face humanity in the 21stcentury: To solve an escalating environmental crisis, and to further improve and safeguard human living conditions. However, current policy strategies, such as the UN´s Sustainable Development Goals, in part rely on an outdated model of development that has not proven to be environmentally sustainable (O´Neill et al. 2018).
   The main idea of Jakob von Uexküll´s Umwelt theory (2010) is that living beings relate to signs, and that the lives of all humans, animals and unicellular organisms play out in distinctive subjective worlds, or Umwelten. In Tønnessen 2014 (p. 159) an “Umwelt trajectory” is characterized as

the course through evolutionary (or cultural) time taken by the Umwelt of a creature, as defined by its changing relations with the Umwelten of other creatures. The Umwelt trajectory of a creature is thus the historical path of its perceptual and behavioral dispositions considered from an ecological and phenomenological point of view. This notion represents an aggregate, collective (and evolutionary) equivalent to Uexküll’s notion of the Umwelt-tunnel of a single individual creature.

   In this presentation, I will apply the “Umwelt trajectory” perspective in an analysis of the future societal transformation that is required to solve the environmental crisis in the 21s century. Key questions include: How are our relations to non-humans likely to change in the scope of this century? And how shouldthey change, in order to secure environmental sustainability? How can improved living conditions for humans be pursued at the same time as society is made environmentally sustainable? I will deal with these questions by looking into questions concerning societal development and transformation. 
   The liberty to choose how we want to live our lives, and live in accordance with our core values, is fundamentally important for human autonomy and dignity, and thus also for humans´ satisfaction with life. I will argue for adopting a model of development that aims at maximizing humans´ range of options in the long term, especially in terms of life style choices. An implication is that we should avoid policy strategies that in effect lock us into inflexible development paths, such as e.g. those that would make us highly dependent on specific high-tech solutions.
   The model of development I defend will have to be holistic in the sense that it will have to consider the interests of both humans and non-humans, and the full range of environmental issues. This is required, given that the future path of our societal development will be decisive for environmental sustainability and human wellbeing alike.

O’Neill, D. W., A. L. Fanning, W.L. Lamb. & J.K. Steinberger, J. K. (2018), ‘A good life for all within planetary boundaries’, Nature Sustainability, 1, 88–95.
Tønnessen, M. (2014), ‘Umwelt trajectories’, Semiotica,issue 198, 159–180.
von Uexküll, J. (2010), A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans with A Theory of Meaning (Posthumanities 12). Transl. by J. D. O. ́Neil. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Keywords: environmental crisis, social change, cultural change, environmental change, societal transformation, Umwelt theory, biosemiotics

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