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Tartu University Library, Struve 1

[Animals] never enter into relationships with neutral objects. Through every relationship the neutral object is transformed into a meaning-carrier, the meaning of which is imprinted upon it by a subject.

–Jakob von Uexküll Theory of Meaning

Zoosemiotics is an interdisciplinary research program introduced by an American semiotician Thomas A. Sebeok in the 1960s with the aim to merge semiotics and ethology and to launch semiotic studies of animal communication. The foundational idea in zoosemiotics is that relations between animals and their environment as well as between different individuals are not purely physical, but are to a large extent sign-mediated. This gives a significant role to the animal subjects, and recognizes more as well as higher forms of complexity in animals than previously assumed. A lot has happened since the concept of zoosemiotics was proposed: the rise of biosemiotics and cognitive ethology are two among the many important developments in the field of animal communication studies.

Now, almost 50 years after Sebeok’s initiative, the Department of Semiotics at the University of Tartu organizes an international gathering aiming to look back at the history of zoosemiotics, but also to look ahead towards the future of semiotic studies of animals. At this event, the scope of zoosemiotics is defined broadly, so as to include specific studies in the history of science, philosophical accounts of animals, case studies on animal communication as well as animal representations in literature and other media. At the same time, the focus of the conference is explicitly twofold: “semiotic processes” and “animals” are the key concepts that are to guide the conference as well as the individual presentations. Researchers from various backgrounds who have been inspired by zoosemiotics or who are interested in different aspects of semiotic studies of animals are invited to participate in the conference.


– Theory and methodology of zoosemiotics
– History of zoosemiotics, the legacy of Thomas A. Sebeok
– Practical applications of zoosemiotics (e.g. zoosemiotics and conservation)
– Zoosemiotics’ relation to relevant fields such as cognitive ethology, biosemiotics, ecocriticism etc.
– Animal experience (semiotics and phenomenology)
– Semiotic perspectives on animals in literature, art, films etc. (e.g. seeing man in animals, and the animal in men).
– Semiotics of human–animal relationships: historical, social and communicative perspectives (e.g. the semiotics of zoos, of wildlife management, and of domesticated animals).

To submit a proposal, interested scholars (and graduate students) should e-mail an abstract (300-600 words) and a bio-note (less than 100 words) to the address: zoosemiotics@semiootika.ee. Abstracts should be sent as separate single one-page files (.doc or .rtf). The deadline for the abstracts is 15. September 2010. Earlier submissions are highly encouraged. The conference “Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations” has an international advisory board. All presentation abstracts will be peer-reviewed. The conference welcomes also proposals for poster presentations.