Animals in changing environments: Cultural mediation and semiotic analysis

The goal of this research project is 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 transformation of environmental relations is a relevant topic for contemporary Estonian and Norwegian cultures, as there have been significant changes in environmental use — for instance, a decline of small-scale farming, and extensive natural forest generation in the last decades. These developments come on top of global environmental changes, including climate change, which also manifests itself with regional differences.

In both Estonian and Norwegian culture, the interplay between traditional culture and mediated culture, as well as heritage culture and contemporary culture, produces and shapes identities in an important manner.

The research project involves the following case studies with Norwegian participation:

  • Representations (both Problematic and Romanticizing) of Large Mammals, especially Wolves. This case study is particularly concerned with conflicts between wolves and a) sheep, b) reindeer and c) hunting dogs. The case study will focus on environmental change in different ecological and demographic conditions, and will include archeological work on Viking era cultural representations of wolves. It also includes analysis of cultural exposure to novel species (e.g. the European jackal in Estonia).
  • Agencies and Conflicts of Interest in Zoological Gardens as an Environment for Mediated Communication (in cooperation with Tallinn Zoological Gardens). This case study focuses on compromises and conflicts between people’s wishes and animals’ needs in different captive environments. Establishing collaboration and continuing case studies at Amadeus Dyrepark a.o. zoos in Norway.
  • Animal Agency in Nature Writing (including Animality in Humans). The source material for cultural, semiotic and literary analysis in this case study comes from Estonian and Norwegian nature writing and animal stories as well as from general cultural and philosophical literature. It also includes analysis of maritime literature and literary representations of fish and fishery.

See also the research project's Dissemination plan.

A wolf is hiding between snowy trees.

Photo: Morten Tønnessen