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Friday, 20 March 2015

Included in prospective research network - animal welfare for pigs and hens

I have agreed to be part of a prospective research network, with the name "COST GroupHouseNet", which will if funded conduct networking activities involving knowledge dissemination etc. in the study of animal welfare for pigs and hens. The application is initiated by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and involves researchers representing 17 institutions in 15 European countries.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Abstract for "Animals in the Anthropocene" conference: "Proto-language in wolves"

On Friday this week I took part in composing and submitting the abstract below to the September 17-19th conference "Animals in the Anthropocene: Human-animal relations in a changing semiosphere".

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Proto-language in wolves
Morten Tønnessen (University of Stavanger) and Paul Thibault (University of Agder)

Like several other animals (and human infants), wolves have proto-language. In human development, proto-language precedes and is the foundation of the child’s development of the adult language. In animals, proto-language forms an important part of their communicative repertoire. In animals and humans alike, proto-language is characterized by the absence of grammar, and is directly tied to internal bodily states and/or to aspects of situations. In other words, actual use of proto-language is often action-related, for instance by directing attention.

In terms of the tripartite Umwelt model (Tønnessen, based on Uexküll), animal interjections can be associated with the conceptual aspect of Umwelt, where in the human case linguistic practices are placed. In animals too, the conceptual Umwelt is characterized by predicative reasoning, i.e. the habitual, mental attribution of specific features to someone or something. However, the mediated aspect of Umwelt also comes into play as far as mediation, e.g. anticipation and memory, enters the picture, as is typically the case with emotions, which are often at the basis of interjections.

We will analyze a data set involving captive wolves, aiming to identify animal interjections performed in a range of situation types. We will be looking for patterns and variation, e.g. between different groups (packs), with a view to determining the range of meanings and situations in which different interjections occur. We hypothesize that since interjections are very likely to some extent conventionalized, there will be systematic, observable variations grounded in the lived experience of social relations, whether intra–pack, or human–animal. Of interest here is the extent to which these calls or interjections are not merely expressive of internal states but serve communicative and thus social functions such as coordinating relations between individuals in the group. Our assumption is that interjections are often learned through experience, in a social setting. By comparing instances of interjections in wolves, we will also consider how the individual and social agency of wolves is enacted through these vocalizations, and how it contributes to individual and group development. This implies that socialization is always in part self-socialization (i.e. that socialization always involves individuation).

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).

Abstract for "Animals in the Anthropocene" conference: "Human Perceptions of Wolves and other Animals in Contemporary Norway"

On Friday this week I took part in composing and submitting the abstract below to the September 17-19th conference "Animals in the Anthropocene: Human-animal relations in a changing semiosphere".

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Human Perceptions of Wolves and other Animals in Contemporary Norway

Paul Thibault (University of Agder) and Morten Tønnessen (University of Stavanger)

This paper presents fieldwork focused on people´s perception of wolves and selected animals the wolf is often perceived as being in conflict with. The data consists of video-recordings of a series of semi-structured interviews conducted in Norway in 2015, specifically at five locations. During these interviews, participants were shown and asked to respond to display materials featuring wolves and other animals. Study animals other than wolves include hunting dogs (particularly in Moss), reindeer (particularly in Kautekeino) and sheep (particularly in Rendalen). These animals were selected for study due to their centrality in regional discourses on wolf management. At each of the three main locations (excluding pilot study and control group), participants were recruited from relevant interest groups, which included hunters, sheep farmers, reindeer herders, mushroom gatherers, and hikers.

Using techniques derived from Multimodal Interaction Analysis (MIA), the study analysed participants´ accounts of, attitudes to and reactions towards selected display materials. The term ´perception´ used in the title of this paper refers to participants´ experience with, ideas about and attitudes towards the study animals, as revealed in the interviews. Methodologically, display materials were used in order to elicit responses that provide information about the participants´ perceptions of the study animals. The display materials included video clips, audio recordings of animal vocalizations, and images. The semi-structured interviews also included a few standard questions. 

The techniques of MIA were deployed in order to analyse the full range of interviewees´ meaning-making resources, including vocal utterances, gesture, facial expressions and other relevant body movements. The purpose of the MIA was to identify salient cultural thematic patterns, evaluative stances and feelings experiences by the participants in their encounter with the display materials and their recounts of their experiences of the study animals. Furthermore, a comparative analysis was developed of relevant patterns in the data that showed differences and similarities in the perceptions of the different interest groups. Moreover, a comparative analysis was also undertaken based on the different geographical locations where the data was gathered.

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).

Friday, 13 March 2015

Field trip dates rescheduled

Today I met with my colleague Paul Thibault to reschedule field trip dates for our work related to human perception of wolves and related animals, in the research project "Animals in changing environments: Cultural mediation and semiotic analysis" (EMP151), specifically the case study "Representations (both Problematic and Romanticizing) of Large Mammals, especially Wolves". The field trips will take place in April, May and June.

MC exam questions composed

Today I have composed exam questions for an extraordinary Multiple Choice exam in Examen Philosophicum (course code BSNEXP) at University of Stavanger´s Department of health studies which is to take place March 19th, next week.