Workshop: Figuring Animals


15 – 16 August 2016
Mid-Sweden University, Campus Sundsvall

With the formation of the interdisciplinary field ‘Animal Studies,’ animals are increasingly moving into the purview of literary and cultural studies. In the environmental humanities, an animal oriented perspective is beginning to establish itself as a dynamic and productive sub-field. Greg Garrard, for example, devotes an entire chapter to animals in Ecocriticism (2012). The way humans read animals shapes culture just as much as culture shapes the way we read animals (Baker in Garrard, 153). This mutually constitutive relationship makes ‘animal’ a central trope in environmental thinking and discourse. In this workshop, we want to take a closer look at how Ecocriticism and the theoretical and methodological concerns of Animal Studies can interact productively with each other.

What links Ecocriticism and Animal Studies is the concern with the politics of representation that shape human interactions, material and discursive, with animals. The conceptual separation of the human animal from non-human animals is at the center of most mainstream environmental and philosophical thinking. In continental European thought, human exceptionalism is based on a variety of concepts, such as that of an immortal soul, existential freedom, or symbolic language. With its roots in the Enlightenment tradition, human exceptionalism still informs most scholarly practice in the humanities and underwrites even theoretical approaches that are interested in conceptualizing nonhuman forms of subjectivity, as posthumanist scholar Cary Wolfe points out in his seminal monograph Animal Rites (18).

In this tradition, the ways in which humans relate to animals are predominantly shaped by a presumed hierarchy in which animals rank below humans. From the prevalent utilitarian perspective, animals are regarded primarily as a resource for human use, which finds expression in cultural practices like animal husbandry (esp. raising animals for human consumption) or the display of animals in zoos but also in the ways humans relate to animals through language. During this workshop, the linguistic, textual, and visual expressions of animal imaginaries that illustrate and comment on, and at the same time influence and shape, human-animal-relationships are at the center of our concern.

We invite master and doctoral students with projects in the environmental humanities or Animal Studies to contribute to our workshop. Questions, texts, and projects might address but are not limited to the following:

  • representations of human-animal-relationships in cultural artifacts
  • representation of animals in visual culture; e.g. animal bodies as spectacles
  • representations of animals in environmentalist texts; e.g. endangered species
  • philosophical, conceptual and structural bases that underwrite human-animal-relationships
  • specific discursive formations of “the human” and its delineation against nonhuman animals (e.g. ‘discourse of species’ (C. Wolfe), but also e.g. ‘dehumanizing’ discourses, such as colonial discourse)
  • functions of metaphor and metonymy involving animals in specific discourses and/or texts
  • textual instances involving animals that resist allegorical interpretation
  • specific instances of anthropomorphism, zoomorphism, and possible alternatives

Students can participate by submitting an excerpt of their dissertation or MA thesis, a research poster presenting their PhD project, or a theoretical text that interests and/or challenges them for discussion. We will be able to invite a maximum of 10 participants. The workshop language is English.

If you are interested in participating, please send an email to by May 29th, 2016 and let us know in which form you would like to contribute (excerpt of own work/poster/secondary text). Please state your current project topic and include a short biographical note (150 words).


Workshop Format and Program

The workshop is organized by the Postgraduate Forum Environment, Literature, Culture, which brings together young researchers from the EASLCE membership countries to share and discuss their research with other young scholars in the environmental humanities.

“Figuring Animals” will open with a keynote speech by Dr. Roman Bartosch (Lecturer in English at Cologne University, Germany) with the title “Creatural Fictions and Aesthetic Relationalities: Making Kin in a More-than-Human World.” We will then have time to discuss five texts. The first day concludes with a small reception during which we will have a poster session. Posters may present PhD research projects, individual dissertation chapters, or other current research projects. Afterwards, there is an optional dinner (paid for by the participants). On the second day, we will discuss three texts and then offer participants a coaching session during which they can learn more about questions pertaining to an academic career. The coaching is provided by Mid-Sweden University’s Innovation Office Fyrklövern.

The texts for discussion will be made available beforehand and need to be read by all participants in advance. Students who suggest a text will briefly introduce it in a short input presentation before the discussion. Please bear in mind that we do not want to discuss thesis projects in their early stages during the text sessions (if you are interested in presenting your whole project, please apply for the poster session). Chapters or excerpts of your thesis and theoretical secondary texts pertaining to the workshop’s topic that you find challenging or useful are welcome for the discussion sessions.

We might be able to offer travel grants for participants without university or third-party funding – please state if you would need funding in your application email.

Here you find the pdf version of the CfA_ELC 2016 Figuring Animals.

Michaela Castellanos, Mid-Sweden University Sundsvall, Sweden
Hanna Straß, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

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