Doctoral defences at the department of semiotics: Nelly Mäekivi and Silver Rattasepp 3rd of December, Ott Puumeister 5th of December
December 3, 2018 at 12.15, at UT Senat Hall (Ülikooli 18), Nelly Mäekivi will defend her PhD thesis „The Zoological Garden as a Hybrid Environment: A (Zoo)semiotic Analysis“.
The thesis can be read here: http://hdl.handle.net/10062/62517
Timo Maran, PhD
Professor Paul Cobley, PhD, Middlesex University (Great Britain)
Professor Dario Martinelli, PhD, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, (Lithuania)
There is a zoo in almost every major city, and more than 700 million people visit zoological gardens annually. Still, there is a lack of understanding how we and captivity affect the lives of zoo animals, how the animals and the created environment affect our perceptions of them, and how our attitudes influence animals’ keeping conditions. The zoo is a hybrid environment where cultural and natural elements are intertwined throughout the institution’s endeavours, such as wild animal management, education, and species conservation. Additional factors like the zoo’s history, designed physical space, and self-image contribute to creating communication context and shape intra- and interspecies (including human) communication. This dissertation provides a semiotic analysis of the contemporary zoo, bringing forth the complexity of this institution, and examining an array of interconnected semiotic aspects that are at the core of this hybrid environment. The semiotic approach enables us to navigate in the intricate web of communication involving humans and other animals and explicate some of the significant issues as seen not only on a philosophical level but also in practice, as outlined in the setting of the zoo. We discuss the influence that human perceptions of other animals have on their existence, and how the communication of the zoo animals and their wild conspecifics differ. The conclusion that species neutrality hardly ever exists in animal welfare studies, species management, and humans in general leads to uncovering tensions and conflicts between various attitudes that people hold. We explore how our dispositions are utilised in displaying zoo animals that further influence people’s attitudes and find that the management of these animals often favours animal welfare over the goal of conservation. We determine that if for the animals the zoo environment differs from their natural environment, the animals’ communicative capabilities are inevitably influenced.
December 3, 2018 at 14.15 at UT Senat Hall (Ülikooli 18), Silver Rattasepp will defend his PhD thesis „The Human Mirror: A Critique of the Philosophical Discourse on Animals from the Position of Multispecies Semiotics“.
The thesis can be read here: http://hdl.handle.net/10062/62520
Timo Maran, PhD
Pauline Delahaye, PhD, Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV, France)
Professor Felice Cimatti, PhD, University of Calabria (Italy)
The thesis explicates a certain common philosophical or theoretical understanding of the relations between humans and nonhuman animals, which is widespread. This “common-sense” approach to animal-human relations comprises six aspects, summarised below. Together, they present a narrative which has a detrimental effect on understanding biological diversity, the plenitude of umwelts, and the place of humans in the world. This for the reason that these six aspects show that the primary purpose of this common-sense narrative is to relegate to a lower or more irrelevant position nonhuman animals, thereby expelling understanding of them from a sphere of certain conceptions, topics and beliefs that are thought to be uniquely human. It forms a pattern of thinking amounting to an anthropocentric belief in human exceptionalism, in which human beings are as if excluded from the natural world and instead inhabiting a separate “realm”, be it conceived as culture, language, symbolic thought, etc. The thesis proposes that philosophically interesting results can be achieved by paying more attention to nonhumans.
The six aspects of this philosophical “common-sense” are as follows:
- The uniqueness of human nature can be determined by studying humans alone;
- The most important characteristic of animals is that they lack something human;
- When humans are compared to animals, humans are described as unique, rather than merely different;
- The distinction between humans and animals is mental, or reducible to the mental;
- Animals are discussed as one indistinct, undifferentiated category;
- Humans reach their true nature only when they suppress the animal within themselves.
The thesis makes use of posthumanist approaches for the express purpose of critiquing the above discourse. Posthumanist discourse focuses on the myriad relations that humans have with nonhumans, living and non-living. The most relevant critical conceptions that the thesis applies are correlationism and the anthropological machine. The former describes the situation in philosophy according to which it can have access to a correlation between thinking and being, and not to either part alone. Correlationist thinking is also asymmetrical, since it considers the human side as the primary source of meaning-making. The concept of the anthropological machine describes the discourse according to which the human-animal distinction is not placed on a species-line, but rather as constitutive of humans themselves. This situation is then thought of as necessitating the suppression of the animal side within humans themselves. The thesis also proposes to extend and apply anthropology’s ontological turn to nonhuman umwelts, taking a circuitous look back on human thinking through the eyes of nonhumans, amounting to a “philosophy through the eyes of nonhuman animals”.
December 6, 2018 at 14.15 at UT Senat Hall (Ülikooli 18), Ott Puumeister will defend his PhD thesis „On Biopolitical Subjectivity: Michel Foucault's Perspective on Biopolitics and its Semiotic Aspects“.
The thesis can be read here: http://hdl.handle.net/10062/62550
Andreas Ventsel, PhD
Professor Daniele Monticelli, PhD, Tallinna Ülikool
Professor Tõnu Viik, PhD, Tallinn University
Professor Sergei Prozorov, PhD, Jyväskylä University (Finland)
How are processes of life and meaning-making related to each other? According to the biosemiotic perspective, life can be defined on the basis of semiosis – there is no meaning in the inanimate world. This coincidence between life and semiosis makes it striking that the concepts of biopolitics and biopower have been left unexplored by semiotics. This is made even more surprising by the fact that Michel Foucault – pioneer of critical analyses on the politicization of life – and his approach to power as immanent to social relations has been largely influential to the development of political semiotics. The thesis aims to explore the connections between biopolitics and semiotics. It does this by adopting the Foucauldian perspective. His understanding of biopolitics as operating via normalization provides a possibility to interpret the capture of life into dispositives of power not as direct intervention or violence, but on the basis of subjectification – that is, the construction of normalized and normalizable subjectivity. Active subjectivation or self-construction always takes place as a response to already existing subject positions mediated by norms which are fundamentally semiotic phenomena. The dialectic relationship between the construction of normalized subjectivity (subjectification) and the active self-construction of subjects (subjectivation) should not be seen as reducible to one or the other pole. Instead, both processes are fundamental to the understanding of biopolitics as politics, or in other words, as a process of constructing social relations and ways of being in which resistance – and thus, freedom – is possible. Capturing life into dispositives of power, that is, structuring the umwelts of humans as living beings, is a political process and not simply a unilateral relation of violence or modification. This realization enables us to speak of biopolitics in semiotic terms. However, (bio)semiotics are not to be seen as all-powerful conceptual tools explaining the conjunction of life and politics. Although (bio)semiotic concepts, such as the semiotic threshold and umwelt, are helpful, they can themselves sometimes participate in the politicization of life – any life science should be critically analyzed from the perspective of biopolitics.