Forskningsseminar på UiS 13. desember

Første norske forskningsseminar innenfor temaet "Animals in Changing Environments: Cultural mediation and Semiotic Analysis".

Tid: Fredag 13. desember 2013 kl. 10.00-13.30
Sted: KA-053 (Kjell Arholms hus rom 053), Universitetet i Stavanger

10.00-10.15 Velkomst

10.15-11.00 Kristin Armstrong Oma: “Beyond dualist explanations: the deep history of domestic animals in human societies”

11.00-11.45 Timo Maran (Universitetet i Tartu): “Initial cultural exposure to a new mammalian species, golden jackal (Canis aureus). Preliminary results”

11.45-12.00 Pause

12.00-12.45 Morten Tønnessen (Universitetet i Stavanger): “The symbolic construction of the Big Bad Wolf in contemporary Scandinavia”

12.45-13.30 Lunsj (gratis for påmeldte deltakere - NB: begrenset antall)

For påmelding send en e-post til Morten Tønnessen.



Beyond dualist explanations: the deep history of domestic animals in human societies

Av Kristin Armstrong Oma, Universitetet i Stavanger

My paper addresses the kinds of narratives that are reiterated about past human-domestic animal relationality, and enquires what kinds of models for the basis for the discourse. Animals are frequently subjected to a dualism; they are either deified or construed as a source of protein. Neither approach considers the potential agency of animals, and how this is inherent to lived, human-animal relationships.

Further, I will examine ways of approaching animal agency and ontological status in the past by examining the practice of herding and the relationships between, and statuses of, sheep, dogs and humans. In herding, there are three kinds of being. The human shepherd acts as the self-proclaimed agent, the flock of sheep are by category animal others, whereas the sheepdogs are inbetween. The latter can simultaneously be both neceessary tools and "brothers" to the shepherd. Sheepdogs are as such beings on the fringe, both categorically and in practice. The work that sheepdogs do often happens in dangerous, hilly "fringe" landscapes. Studying their fringe position brings a different dynamics into human-animal relationships, which are often tacitly understood to be an act of relating between two kinds of beings. However, the position set out in this paper, is that there can be, and often indeed are, more than two kinds of being in human-animal dynamics.

In the herding situation, sheepdogs are their own agents, they engage in a social world and are responsible for performing tasks from the position of individual, autonomous problem solving. Indeed, the shepherds draw upon these capacities that are inherent in good sheepdogs when they train the dogs. In sheepdogs, the original hunting instincts have been harnessed and moulded to herd and protect. A good sheepdog handler will socialise the dog to be a free agent, and even though commands and communication are important factors in training, the most important factor is the development of trust and intuitive understanding between man, dog and sheep. In this paper I wish to discuss the fringe position of herding dogs. When more than one kind of agent are working together, a key aspect to their success is early socialisation and habituation to each other as different kinds of beings. The types of agents need to grow into being together.

The paper presents an array of Bronze Age sources:  rock art, living arrangements within the household and depositional patterns of bones on settlements to draw together an understanding of the social aspects of the practice of herding. I draw upon theories from the interdisciplinary field of Human-Animal Studies to understand how socialisation, habituation and trust create a seamless choreagraphy between wo/man, dog and sheep.

Cultural exposure to a new mammalian species, golden jackal (Canis aureus). Preliminary results

Av Timo Maran, Universitetet i Tartu (Estland)

The first specimen of golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Estonia was hunted down at the end of February 2013 in Hanila parish, Western Estonia. Sporadic messages about encounters with the new mammalian species followed from Hanila as well as other regions. The closest stable populations of the golden jackal to Estonia are in the Balkans, Hungary and Ukraine. The new species, its trajectory of arrival and possible influence on the local environment became a topic of vivid discussion among specialists in zoology, environmental officials, local people of Hanila parish as well as among general public. In the end of September 2013, Estonian Environmental Agency classified golden jackal in Estonia as an alien species that is subject to hunting.

This is the context for the study that was undertaken to follow the development of the discourse of the emergence of the new canine species. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with local inhabitants in Hanila, professional zoologists, officials of the Ministry of Environment and state environmental agencies. The interviews were arranged around the following topics: participants in and the nature of discourse on the golden jackal, the position of the golden jackal in regard to Estonian nature, the concept of invasive species, and cultural and ethical issues related to the golden jackal. In addition to the interviews, newsletter content on the golden jackal as well as connected readers’ comments were analyzed.

In this talk I will present preliminary results of this study and their interpretation. My theoretical approach synthesises ecosemiotics, Tartu-Moscow cultural semiotics, environmental communication studies and Latourian science studies. I will discuss the following topics: 1) golden jackal as a semiotic agency; 2) employed cultural modelling strategies to understand a new species; 3) temporal dynamics of the cultural exposure to a new species; 4) insufficiency of information, fear, and self-other relations as cultural factors in the discourse on invasive species.

Acknowledgements. The research leading to these results has received funding from the Norway Financial Mechanism 2009–2014 under project contract no EMP151.


The symbolic construction of the Big Bad Wolf in Contemporary Scandinavia

Av Morten Tønnessen, Universitetet i Stavanger

In this presentation, as background for the case study “Representations (both Problematic and Romanticizing) of Large Mammals, especially Wolves”, I will summarise my work on wolves to date. This includes 8 academic publications (Tønnessen 2010a, 2010b, 2010c, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2013a and 2013b) and 18 presentations at conferences and research seminars:


  • Wolf Land: The Phenomenal World of Wolves on the Scandinavian Peninsula
  • On Contrapuntuality: Semiotic Niche vs. Ontological Niche: The Case of the Scandinavian Wolf Population
  • Estranged, Endangered, Extinct:: Lessons from the Extinction off the Scandinavian Wolf
  • The Changing Imagery of the Big Bad Wolf


  • The Legality and Ethical Legitimacy of Wolf Hunting in Scandinavia
  • En økosemiotisk analyse av norsk ulveforvaltning [An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management]
  • Territory vs. Confinement: The Umwelten of Free-Range vs. Captive Wolves
  • Ulovlig jakt på ulv [Illegal wolf hunting]
  • The Nature View and Worldview of People in Rendalen Municipality in the Region of Hedmark


  • Bad Dog: An Uexküllian Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management
  • The Umwelt Trajectories of Wolves, Sheep and People
  • Wolf History: Agents in Hiding
  • Two Global Species and their Age-Old Foe: The Semiotic Eth(n)ology of Wolves, Sheep and People
  • Offisiell og ‘uoffisiell’ rovviltforvaltning i Norge sett med et humanøkologisk blikk: Hva er motivene og handlingene? [Official and ‘unofficial’ predator management in Norway seen from the perspective of human ecology: What are the motifs and actions?]
  • The Cultural Semiotic of Wolves and Sheep


  • The Contemporary Symbolic Construction of Norway’s Big Bad Wolf


  • Animal and Eve: How Representations of Wolves and Sheep are Used to Construct Human Identities
  • Plans for Field Work on Predator-Prey Conflicts in Norway involving Video-Recorded Interviews followed by Pico-Scale Analysis

In cultural terms, hardly any animal is as loaded with symbolic value as the wolf. A main finding in my work to date is that the wolf has become a poster boy for large predators in general, and a scape goat for certain societal developments. In consequence, what wolves are taken to signify depends not so much on actual wolf ecology as on these cultural/societal developments, which are, justly or unfairly, associated with the presence of wolves. The wolf’s vivid symbolicity in current times is enforced by the occurrence of conspiracy theories.

In Norway, the wolf as a symbol is particularly associated with the sheep as a symbol. The sheep’s symbolicity is in the Norwegian context grounded in open landscapes, which are typically taken to be intrinsically Norwegian. Sheep symbolicity is thus effectively associated with outer pastures, which have been crucial in Norwegian sheep husbandry but are now under pressure. And so it is that wolves are blamed for overgrowth (gjengroing).


Tønnessen, Morten 2010a. Wolf Land. Biosemiotics 3.3: 289-297.
— 2010b. Is a Wolf wild as Long as it Does Not Know that It Is Being Thoroughly Handled? Humanimalia – a journal of human/animal interface studies 2(1) (Fall 2010): 1-8 (available online).
— 2010c. The Legality and Ethical Legitimacy of Wolf Hunting in Scandinavia. Pp. 65-72 in the Research seminar report 52 of the Scandinavian Council for Criminology.
— 2011a. I, Wolf: The Ecology of Existence. In Johannes Servan and Ane Faugstad Aarø (eds.): Environment, Embodiment and Gender, Bergen: Hermes Text, 315-333.
— 2011b. Fra by og land, mann mot mann til visjon 2040 [From city against countryside, man against man to vision 2040]. Kulturverk (online magazine) – published in three parts Nov. 13, Nov. 17 and Nov. 24.
— 2011c. Umwelt Transition and Uexküllian Phenomenology – An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management (= Dissertationes Semioticae Universitatis Tartuensis 16). Doctoral dissertation. Tartu: Tartu University Press. 232 pp. Introduction available online.
— 2013a. Hvem er villest i landet her? Et ulveliv [Who is wildest in this country here? A wolf's life]. In Sollund, Ragnhild, Morten Tønnessen og Guri Larsen (eds) 2013, Hvem er villest i landet her? Råskap mot dyr og natur i antropocen, menneskets tidsalder [Who is wildest in this country here? Brutality towards animals and nature in the Anthropocene, the age of Man], Oslo: Spartacus Forlag/Scandinavian Academic Press, 79-98. 
— 2013b. Ketil Skogen, Olve Krange og Helene Figari 2013, Ulvekonflikter – en sosiologisk studie, Oslo 2013: Akademika forlag. Book review. Sosiologi idag 43(2) (Special Issue on „Dyr i samfunnet“ [Animals in society]): 117-122. Summary available online.

The work presented here has been supported of EEA Norway Grants EMP151.