15 – 16 August 2016, Mid-Sweden University, Campus Sundsvall
The 2016 workshop of the Postgraduate Forum Environment, Literature and Culture (ELC) took place in Sundsvall, Sweden from 15-16 August at Mid-Sweden University. This year’s topic, “Figuring Animals: Images and Imaginaries in Anglophone Literary and Media Texts”, provided a great scope for interdisciplinary perspectives on contemporary cultural manifestations of human and nonhuman animals. The workshop served as a constructive platform for emerging researchers to discuss critical animal studies – a field which tends to be neglected or even dismissed in environmentalist circles – in a welcoming setting.
After a brief introduction, during which participants shared recommendations of research networks and scholarly hubs, the first day began with a discussion of critical concepts in relation to aesthetics and animals. Anthropomorphism recurred as a primary preoccupation throughout the workshop, so this introductory session – led by a participant who spoke to her doctoral research on interdisciplinary art history – was vital for contextualising the following discussions. Dr Roman Bartosch’s keynote, titled “Creatural Fictions and Aesthetic Relationalities: Making Kin in a More-than-Human World”, further laid the foundations for fruitful knowledge exchanges by referencing a comprehensive range of literary theorists, issues of (re)presentation and relationality, and the rise of posthumanism as a critical lens. In the afternoon, there were two additional sessions led by participants; one was dedicated to discussions of doctoral and Master’s theses which analysed representations of animals in print media and attitudes towards creaturely exhibits in museums, while the other was an exchange of ideas informed by contemporary artworks and an excerpt from Lori Gruen’s Entangled Empathy (2015). The visual element of all three of these papers was further complimented by a poster and video presentation on interspecies healing (particularly between horses and humans) in film, which concluded the evening. Early career researchers were thus given the invaluable opportunity to explore new avenues and mediums for sharing their work.
Discussions turned towards literary issues on the morning of the second day; the penultimate session saw one participant present on questions of intersectionality and aesthetics in Claire Jean Kim’s Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age (2015), while another spoke to her thesis chapter on queer zoopoetics and entanglement in Yoko Tawada’s Etudes in the Snow (2014). All participants were then offered advice about open access publishing by Mid Sweden University Library. The day concluded with a session by the university’s Innovation Office on Intellectual Asset Inventories, a technique which helps researchers to identify and maximise their strengths. Those who work in the humanities and social sciences often overlook such analytical methods, so we benefited greatly from discussing our research’s impact in practical, objective terms.
Despite approaching the theme from a variety of disciplinary approaches or geographical contexts, the participants’ shared knowledge and willingness to engage meant that discussions extended well beyond the allocated sessions, thus forging important connections between specialisations and institutions. I was particularly impressed and inspired by the normalisation of vegan catering for the event, which further highlighted the focus on animal theory and praxis. On behalf of all participants, therefore, I would like to thank Michaela Castellanos and Hanna Straß for their dedication to what was an enormously successful event. I am also grateful to Mid Sweden University for the travel grant that allowed me to attend this workshop. As I commence my doctoral studies this year, the discussions that took place in Sundsvall will continue to benefit my research and broaden my horizons.
~ Caitlin Stobie, University of Leeds, UK
The 4th annual workshop of the Postgraduate Forum Environment, Literature, Culture took place on 15-16 August at the Mid Sweden University Sundsvall, Sweden. Titled “Figuring Animals – Images and Imaginaries in Anglophone Literary and Media Texts”, it drew together seven junior scholars from diverse fields, whose work intersected along the lines of animal studies, post-humanism and literary and cultural studies.
The workshop began with an introduction from the organizers, Michaela Castellanos (Mid Sweden University) and Hanna Straß (LMU Munich). The first discussion of the day, led by Concepción Cortés Zulueta (Madrid), addressed the concepts of animal, art and “anti-anti-anthropomorphism”, first in comparing artists Hubert Duprat and Liang Shaoji’s collaborations with insects, and then in examining animal art, as in the case of Congo, the painting chimpanzee. It was followed by the keynote lecture by Dr Roman Bartosch (Cologne), “Making Kin in a More-than-Human World”, which drew on Donna Haraway’s resistance to the term anthropocene, and debated the potential of literary text to establish ethical creaturely relationality from posthuman perspectives. The concerns raised by both Bartosch and Zulueta – pitting aesthetics against ethics, affect against agency, form over representation and intra-action rather than interaction – set the tone for the rest of the workshop.
The ensuing presentations comprised theoretical texts, PhD chapters, an MA thesis, and a poster and video. The vast array of themes included ambiguity tolerance arising from categorisations of human/non-human in British media, animal rights, vegan theory, race and non-neocolonial ethics, animal therapy, natural history museum display, empathy in curatorial and art practice, and intercultural, interspecial encounters. Common ground and concerns were easily found, particularly over ethical implications in the cultural representations and readings of diegetic, symbolic and real-world animals. Discussions circled around limitrophy, enstrangement, shared vulnerabilities, the complexities of empathy, and the inevitable impossibility of resolving any of these concerns neatly.
The workshop concluded with two sessions provided by Mid Sweden University. The University Library delivered a session on open access publishing, instigating debate on various problematic aspects of academic publishing. The University Innovation Office then held a workshop on intellectual asset inventory, encouraging participants to evaluate their work, research and skills as potential intangible assets to their institutions.
I am very grateful to the University’s English subject for providing the means for me to attend the workshop. I appreciated the diversity of participants’ texts and research, the spirit of the discussions, and the organisers’ commitment to providing a safe, supportive space for young academics to present and explore their work. I was especially interested in hearing literary scholars’ critical dialogues on the animal in contemporary literature, which provided valuable new perspectives on my own research interests in animals within museology, cinema and art.
On behalf of all participants, I would like to offer thanks and congratulations to Michaela and Hanna for facilitating such a warm, inspiring and successful workshop!
~ Ayesha Keshani, Artist and Museum Developer
As organizers of this year’s ELC workshop we once again want to thank all the participants for making the workshop a wonderful and thought-provoking experience. In addition, we also kindly thank our sponsors for their generous support:
Midsweden University, specifically ECOHUM, the English Department, the Innovation Office and the Library; as well as EASLCE
~ Michaela Castellanos, Mid-Sweden University Sundsvall, Sweden
~ Hanna Straß, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
Here you find a pdf version of the CfA_ELC 2016 Figuring Animals.