Call for papers: Conference “Contemporary Umwelt Analysis: Applications for Culture and Ecological Relations” (18-19 April, 2023, University of Tartu, Estonia)

Umwelt analysis, initially proposed by Jakob von Uexküll, revolutionised studies on animal behaviour and perception by targeting them as semiotic phenomena, that is, based on meanings and signs. In the Institute of Umwelt research in Hamburg, of which Uexküll was the director, umwelt theory served as a shared theoretical ground for research on topics as diverse as the umwelten of fighting fish to the training methods of guide dogs. In the 21st century, the scope of umwelt theory has vastly expanded, both in terms of disciplines – from anthropology to ecology – and the phenomena that are addressed with the help of the theory. Novel theoretical connections and disciplinary embeddings, as well as new changes in the lifeworld itself, bring along new challenges and questions: how to fit umwelt theory with existing methodologies and theoretical backgrounds of various other disciplines, how to make it a working analytical tool in the context of human-induced environmental change, and what are the methodologies that have been developed since the times of Uexküll which would help to carry out empirical analyses of animal umwelten today.

To scrutinize these questions, the Department of Semiotics at the University of Tartu will organize the conference Contemporary Umwelt Analysis: Applications for Culture and Ecological Relations between 18-19 April, 2023. We will especially look for contributions in the following topics:

• Umwelt analysis across disciplines (ecology, anthropology, literary studies, economics, etc.).

• Umwelt analysis in different applications, methods, and fieldwork.

• Human and animal umwelten in the era of anthropogenic environmental change.

•   Contemporary developments in umwelt thinking.

Keynote speakers:

Carsten Herrmann-Pillath, University of Erfurt, Germany

Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway

Kalevi Kull, University of Tartu, Estonia


Interested parties are welcome to submit their abstracts of max. 300 words by January 31, 2023 to for a 15-20 min. presentation. Notification of acceptance will be given by February 27, 2023. Abstracts should be sent as Word .doc or .docx files, with the e-mail subject line “Umwelt analysis”. Each abstract should contain:

1. The title of the paper;

2. The name of the author(s) (surname, given name);

3. Affiliation and country of residence;

4. Email address;

5. An abstract of max. 300 words;

6. A short bionote of max. 50 words.

Organised by the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu: Kalevi Kull, Riin Magnus, Timo Maran, Nelly Mäekivi, Lona Päll, Silver Rattasepp, Siiri Tarrikas.

The conference is funded by the European Union (Horizon Europe project 101084220: “Coevolutionary approach to unlock the transformative potential of nature-based solutions for more inclusive and resilient communities”) and by the Estonian Research Council (project PRG1504: “Meanings of endangered species in culture: ecology, semiotic modelling and reception”)

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