Environmental change is a relevant topic for contemporary Estonian and Norwegian cultures. Studying the dynamic between animals, environmental change, and human cultural representations has pivotal importance for understanding ecological and ethical conflicts involving animals. The project uses predominantly bio- and zoosemiotic methodologies for carrying out four case studies: 1) animal agency in nature writing; 2) representations of large mammals, especially wolves; 3) agencies and conflicts of interest in zoological gardens; 4) guide dogs’ adaptation to changing environments. Main objectives of the project are to study interpretative strategies used to mediate animals in contemporary human culture and to compare environmental changes and their relations to the perception of animals in Estonian and Norwegian cultures. The project will develop bio- and zoosemiotics to provide efficient analytical tools for addressing environmental change, its effect on animals and human culture.
Summary of project results
The main goal of the project was to find out how humans perceive animals in changing environments, how human cultural mediation of animals contributes to environmental change, and how environmental change in turn influences human-animal relations. The project focused on possibly problematic cases of changing human-animal relations and their cultural representations in the Estonian and Norwegian context. The research groups in Tartu and Stavanger took part of the project. The partnership especially contributed to the research methods used in the project and establishing a general research model for analyzing cultural mediation and semiotics of animals in changing environments. This model made dynamic use of J. von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory, and combined it with analysis of different representational modes and the specific structure of communicational, environmental and social networks. The project developed multilayered methodology for analyzing human-animal relations, where animal semiosis, environmental conditions, human’ social and cultural characteristics as well as cultural textual processes were included. The project further enhanced current understanding of hybridization of sign systems and the communication of humans and animal species and the semiotic dynamics of human-animal aggregations. Four case studies were carried through within the project: 1) Animal agency in nature writing as a medium of communication; 2) Representations of large mammals, especially wolves with focus on environmental change in different ecological and demographic conditions; 3) Agencies and conflicts of interest in zoological gardens as an environment for mediated communication; 4) Adaptation of guide dogs to changing environments in urban environments. The proposed case studies provided significant new knowledge in different topics under study. For instance the case study on guide dogs resulted in an understanding of the disabled human-dog teams as integrated agencies that face three basic types of challenges (perceptual, social, and communicative) in urban environments. The main outcome of the project, both regarding the theoretical core and applied studies, was the open access collective monograph: Maran, T.; Tønnessen, M.; Armstrong Oma, K.; Kiiroja, L.; Magnus, R.; Mäekivi, N.; Rattasepp, S.; Thibault, P.; Tüür, Kadri 2016. Animal Umwelten in a Changing World. Zoosemiotic Perspectives (Tartu Semiotics Library 18). Tartu: University of Tartu Press.
Summary of bilateral results
The project had significant effect on bilateral relations between Estonian and Norwegian research communities in the given domain. The co-operation included mutual visits to research seminars and conferences, elaborating research methods (J. von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory, multimodal event analysis, unified zoosemiotic research model), co-operation in editing collections of papers and in organizing academic conferences. The partnership between the Estonian and Norwegian research group contributed well to the research methods used in the project. The Norwegian project partner promoted the methods used for video-recorded interviews, as well as application of Umwelt analysis in the different case studies. The partnership further led to establishing a general research model for analyzing cultural mediation and semiotics of animals in changing environments that was developed during the project meetings and in co-authored publications. The model makes dynamic use of J. von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory, and combines it with analysis of different representational 5 modes and the specific structure of communicational, environmental and social networks. The model combines the set of theoretical tools and conceptual distinctions with the object (and subject)-sentient field-work. The project has considerably strengthened the bilateral relations between Estonian and Norwegian research communities on our fields of study. For the Estonian group, the partnership made possible experiencing the Norwegian R&D environment and allowed exchanging experiences between Estonian and Norwegian researchers. Both Estonian and Norwegian researchers continue research in the directions laid down by the project. This will ensure the continuation of proliferation of research after ending this project. A number or co-authored and edited publications have created a good basis for developing co-operation further in shared research initiatives in the future. The leaders of the national project partners, T. Maran and M. Tønnessen, will continue their cooperation as EiC-s of the journal Biosemiotics (Springer) and in international semiotic organizations (Nordic Association of Semiotic Studies, International Society for Biosemiotic Studies).