Animals, culture, environment

Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu

Organized in the framework of the international conference “Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations”

Sponsored by the Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts (GSCSA) and supported by the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory (CECT)


People live and communicate with animals. There is a tremendous amount of pictures, stories and myths about animals and human-animal relations in the history of culture. Sharing the same physical space with other animal species produces hybrid environments, zoos being an exemplary case. There is even a certain amount of animality in our everyday perception, thinking and communication, as a trace of our common evolutionary heritage with other animal species. The aim of the intensive graduate seminar is to make such subtle connections visible by using the methods of zoosemiotics, visual semiotics and ecocriticism. Students are encouraged to develop a fresh view on their own research objects by “learning from animals” and using the perspective of animality.


Elena Grigorjeva, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu. Author of Emblema: Structure and Pragmatics (2001). Specialist in visual semiotics and emblematics. Conducts study groups: What can we learn from animals I, II.

Aleksei Turovski, Lecturer at the Department of Psychology, Tallinn University, zoologist at the Tallinn Zoo. Author of Naturally Animal [Loomult loom] (2004); Animals: From Ant to Whale [Loomad. Sipelgast vaalani] (2007). Conducts study group: Animals in myth and culture.

Jesper Hoffmeyer, Professor emeritus, Biological Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Specialist in biosemiotics and in semiotics of evolution. Author of Biosemiotics. An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs (2008), Signs of Meaning in the Universe (1996). Presents a biosemiotic view in the lecture on the role of semiotic processes in the evolution of animate nature, From genetic to semiotic scaffolding.

David Rothenberg, Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, USA. Author of Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound (2008), Why Birds Sing: A Journey Into the Mystery of Bird Song (2006), a. o. Specialist in animal philosophy and music. Presents a view on music as a model for understanding complex animal communication in the lecture Animal music, animal aesthetics.

Graham Huggan, Professor of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures at University of Leeds, UK. Author of Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment (with H. Tiffin 2010), Extreme Pursuits: Travel/Writing in an Age of Globalization (2009) a. o. Specialist in postcolonial studies and literatures. Presents a postcolonial interpretation of the nature documentary in the lecture, Attenborough, colonialism and the British tradition of nature documentary.

The intensive graduate seminar invites Ph.D. students in various fields of cultural research to participate in an interdisciplinary study group of 20 students. The intensive graduate seminar combines the workshops and group work with access to the state of art research presented at the conference “Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations”. The seminar includes 3 lectures (by J. Hoffmeyer, G. Huggan, D. Rothenberg), 3 workshops (by E. Grigorjeva and A. Turovski) and 3 open round tables (Titled: Futures of Zoosemiotics, Zoo as a Semiotic Environment, Animals and Ecocriticism). Students are expected to do preparatory reading in order to participate in the seminar. Upon full participation in the study programme and completion of a 3000-word essay on the applicability of the semiotic and cultural studies perspective of animals in their own research topic (deadline May 15, 2011) students will receive 4 ECTS points (if an essay will not be submitted, students will receive 2 ECTS).

The language of the seminar is English.

Please send:

– a motivation letter explaining why you wish to participate in this seminar (200-300 words)

– a short CV (not needed for GSCSA students)

by February 28, 2011, to . You will be notified of the acceptance of your contribution by March 7, 2010.

Participation in the course is free of charge; the accommodation and travel costs of the students of GSCSA will be reimbursed. Accommodation will be arranged by the organizers, travel details will be provided for the participants.

Estonian Graduate School of Culture Studies and Arts and the Centre of Excellence in Cultural Theory are funded by the European Union Structural Assistance.

Additional information: student coordinator Helen Kästik,