Sunday, November 22, 2015

CFP: Special Issue of Biosemiotics: Constructive biosemiotics

Call for Papers
Special Issue of Biosemiotics (Springer): Constructive biosemiotics.

The journal Biosemiotics (Springer) is preparing a special issue on “Constructive biosemiotics” guest-edited by Tommi Vehkavaara and Alexei Sharov. By the epithet “constructive“ we are referring to a naturalized approach to agency, normativity, and knowledge that emphasizes the primacy of activity and real construction of the cognitive agents themselves as opposed to the view to agents as mainly passively or mechanically reacting. The aim of the Special Issue is to integrate such constructive approach with biosemiotics so that organisms and perhaps other types of living systems are considered as agents that construct their “knowledge”, i.e. their habits of interpreting signs, their own functional structure, and their environment (that typically includes other agents) they are interacting with. Such constructive perspective is present to some extent in the works of theoretical classics of biosemiotics, especially of Jakob von Uexküll (concepts of functional circle and Umwelt), Gregory Bateson (cybernetics and information), and C.S. Peirce (meaning of sign as constructed by its interpreter). In this special issue we welcome also other constructive starting points – not so often employed in biosemiotics – like Jean Piaget’s constructivism, Richard Lewontin’s emphasis on construction over adaptationism, autopoietic approaches, cybernetics, General systems theory (Ludwig von Bertalanffy), evolutionary epistemology, and interactivism (Mark Bickhard) as far as they are somehow applied to biosemiotic problematics.

Independently on the chosen semiotic terminology (e.g., sign, representation, meaning, or information), constructive biosemiotics understands the referents of these terms as being constructed by biosemiotic agents. Either these referents are materially constructed (composed) by the agent, or some already existing and available material items are identified and taken into service by the agent so that only their semiotic roles are constructed. In both cases, material items are merely vehicles of their semiotic functioning that are picked up for use according to the actual needs of the agent. That would mean to take the organism or agent point of view in its interaction with the world. The activity of agents is controlled by their subsystems that are goal-directed or embodying some normative functional criteria, which in some cases enables the agent to judge and detect the success of its semiotic operations. Although the developmental or short-term time scale is more natural in constructive view, we suggest that constructive biosemiotics should expand to the evolutionary dynamics, evolvability and (re)construction of receptor and effector subsystems of agents, and the whole evo-devo problematic. E.g. what is the role of agential constructions in longer term time scales (e.g. Baldwin effect) and whether or in which sense there can be said to be evolutionary agents (lineages, populations, etc.) capable of learning (evolutionary epistemology, vertical biosemiosis).

The special issue of Constructive biosemiotics welcomes papers that emphasize the constructive perspective in biosemiotic processes at functional and evolutionary time scales. The central question is how biosemiotic agents or systems are constructed and are constructing their semiotic behaviors like 
1. cognitive interactions (meaning formation and communication),
2. navigation in the environment (functional or intentional movements),
3. functional reconstruction of the environment (e.g. niche construction, moulding the other agents),
4. self-maintenance, self-modification, and (recursive) self-production of (semiotically) functional structures or scaffoldings (e.g., constructive development of full-scale competence), and
5. self-identification and -determination (e.g. the normative functioning of immune systems).

A further question concerns the criteria of agency. While organisms are usually understood as the prototype of biosemiotic agents, it can also be considered whether (or in which sense) it would be reasonable to consider also some other kind of biological unities – individual cells, organs, or populations, species, lineages, etc. – as agents capable of these behaviors. The special issue welcomes theoretical works, empirical findings, and metatheoretical considerations that employ constructive perspective biosemiotically relevant way.

Timetable and technical requirements:
- Deadline for submitting tentative titles and abstracts: January 2016
- Deadline for paper submission: September 2016
- Electronic publication ahead of print: January-February 2017
- Paper version, Issue #2, August 2017.
- Recommended length 7,000 words. Figures and tables are welcome (if possible).
- Contact with editors by e-mail: or

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Call for contributions: "Rhetorical Animals: Boundaries of the Human in the Study of Persuasion"

Shared on request:

Rhetorical Animals: Boundaries of the Human in the Study of Persuasion

Alex C. Parrish (James Madison University)
Kristian Bjørkdahl (Rokkan Centre for Social Studies)

In recent years, humanists and social scientists have shown increasing interest in human-animal relations – to the point where many now speak of an ‘animal turn’ in the humanities and social sciences. Across history, psychology, anthropology, literature, sociology, philosophy, and law, an interdisciplinary field of human-animal studies has been forming. Certain common themes run through this diverse field, not least the reproduction of human-animal difference, and the conditions and the implications thereof.

Despite the long history of language use as a marker of such difference, the academic quest to investigate the boundary between human and nonhuman has, somewhat surprisingly, not taken root within rhetorical studies – at least not until now. For this edited volume, we therefore call for chapters that investigate the place of nonhuman animals in the purview of rhetorical theory; what it would mean to communicate beyond the human community; how rhetoric reveals our ‘brute roots.’ In other words, this book invites contributions which enlighten us about likely or possible implications of the animal turn within rhetorical studies. Would such a turn imply, for instance, that rhetoric needs a nonanthropocentric reconfiguration? The question, perhaps, is this: What difference would it make to the discipline if we assumed that nonhuman forms of communication were as interesting as human ones?

For this volume, we invite contributions from a variety of academic perspectives that help elucidate how rhetoric can benefit from and contribute to human-animal studies. Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted, with a brief biography, to Alex Parrish at and to Kristian Bjørkdahl at The closing date for submissions is 10 June 2015. Successful applicants will be notified by 20 June 2015. Full chapters are due 20 January 2016.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2nd CFP, extended abstract deadline March 15th: "Animals in the Anthropocene - human-animal relations in a changing semiosphere"

The Second Call For Papers for the conference "Animals in the Anthropocene: Human-animal relations in a changing semiosphere" (Stavanger, Norway, September 17-19th 2015) has appeared (see conference webpage and 2nd CFP).

Extended deadline for submission of abstracts (oral presentations): March 15th 2015. Please submit your abstract to

Keynote speakers: Almo Farina (Italy), Gisela Kaplan (Australia), Dominique Lestel (France), David Rothenberg (USA), Bronislaw Szerszynski (UK) and Louise Westling (USA).

The conference will feature 7 theme sessions:
– “Animals mediating the real and the imaginary in the past” (chairs: Siv Kristoffersen & Kristin Armstrong Oma, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway)
– "Animal representations in popular culture and new media" (chairs: Kjersti Vik & Lene Bøe, University of Stavanger, Norway)
– “Animals, semiotics, and Actor-Network-Theory” (chairs: Silver Rattasepp & Timo Maran, University of Tartu, Estonia)
– “Global species” (chair: Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway)
– “Humans and other animals, between anthropology and phenomenologies” (chair: Annabelle Dufourcq, Charles University, Czech Republic)
– “Understanding the meaning of animals“ (chairs: Forrest Clingerman, Ohio Northern University, USA & Martin Drenthen, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
– “Wild animals in the era of humankind” (chair: Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway)

Submitted abstracts will be considered for a planned book to be published in Lexington Books´ series "Ecocritical Theory and Practice".

Monday, July 21, 2014

2nd survey conducted by Biosemiotics - 'Umwelt' (the biosemiotic glossary project)

Dear all,

on behalf of the journal Biosemiotics, I refer you to a questionnaire which we now distribute in the biosemiotic community in preparation of the second review article in the biosemiotic glossary project. Carlo Brentari, Riin Magnus and I have been assigned as authors of this scientific article, which will review the term ‘Umwelt’ (in the sense established by Jakob von Uexküll in his Umwelt theory). As part of the editorial process, each review article will, when submitted, be distributed to the members of the editorial board of Biosemiotics and further to those cited in the article, for feedback. 

A survey in the biosemiotic community is conducted in preparation of each review article. The associated questionnaire, which is to be returned to me as handling editor, is distributed to a wide range of biosemioticians, including but not necessarily restricted to/via the members of the editorial board and advisory board of Biosemiotics, the biosemiotics email list (, the board members of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS), the board members of the International Society of Code Biology (ISCB), and the Biosemiosis blog (

The invited authors are tasked with describing the outcomes of the survey associated with their review article, and to do so systematically and in an unbiased manner. However, when it comes to synthesis and suggestions, they will have the freedom to propose their own view even if it contradicts the general/popular understanding.

The deadline for returning the attached questionnaire is August 20th. It should be sent to my email address (mortentoennessen AT or alternatively morten.tonnessen AT The questionnaire (Word format) is available via my page, here.

My best,
Morten Tønnessen

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Biosemiotics

See also:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Message on the editorial board of Biosemiotics (Springer)

We are in the process of reorganizing the Editorial Board (EB) for the Biosemiotics journal, as we have explained at the recent 14th Gathering in Biosemiotics in London (June 30 - July 4). Please note that the new and revised editorial board will have fewer members than the current one.

The duties of the EB members are:

(1) To support Biosemiotics as the main journal of the International Society for Biosemiotics Studies (ISBS) and contribute to ensure its quality.
(2) To provide help in reviewing papers submitted to Biosemiotics and comply with journal guidelines and standards.
(3) To facilitate submission of high-quality papers to Biosemiotics, e.g. by writing reviews on topics of special interest, organizing Special Issues, or promoting the journal at various academic meetings and in communication with relevant scholars.

The main benefits of being a member of the EB are possibility to contribute to the development of biosemiotics as a discipline and free access to the electronic version of Biosemiotics.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the new EB, please, send us a message indicating your interest, with your CV in attachment. Please note that the Editors-in-Chief will jointly decide on the membership of the EB, and that we cannot guarantee any particular candidate a spot in the EB based on motivation alone. Our decision will in the main be based on the merit and competence of the candidates in core biosemiotics.

Our best,

Alexei Sharov
Timo Maran
Morten Tønnessen (

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CFP: Gatherings in Biosemiotics 14

Gatherings in Biosemiotics 14
Middlesex University, London (UK), 30 June – 4 July 2014.

The Fourteenth Annual Gathering in Biosemiotics will be held in London from 30 June to 4 July 2014, under the auspices of Middlesex University in collaboration with the International Society of Biosemiotic Studies. The aim of the gathering is to provide scholars and researchers in various academic disciplines with a common platform to discuss the roles played by signs and communication in life processes.

The Scientific Advisory Committee of the 14th Gathering in Biosemiotics invites scholars and researchers from all over the world to submit their abstracts of presentations which are primarily centred on the roles and the significance of signs in life processes. Favoured abstracts will
  • contribute to and elaborate biosemiotics
  • be up-to-date regarding theory, methods and data, and
  • demonstrate understanding of, and refer to, existing works in the field.
Abstracts should be 300-600 words, typed using a standard word processing format (using Times New Roman 12 point font, and setting the page size for A4). Abstracts should be submitted as single page files to the following address:abstracts2014 [a] to be received by no later than 14 March 2013. Please name the abstract file with the author’s (your) surname in capital letters, for instance SEBEOK.doc.

For early registration and any additional information, please contact p.cobley [a]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Session on Biosemiotic ethics at 12th World Congress of Semiotics

Dear all,

I have taken the initiative to a session (either a study session or more likely a roundtable, depending on the interest) at the 12th World Congress of Semiotics (Sofia, Bulgaria, 16-20 September 2014) entitled "Biosemiotic ethics". Abstracts for individual presentations can be sent directly to me. The description of the topic of this session is as follows (see here for other proposed sessions):


Biosemiotic ethics
Morten Tønnessen, University of Stavanger, Norway (mortentoennessen AT

A dozen to 20 years ago, two of the most central biosemioticians, first Jesper Hoffmeyer and then Kalevi Kull, addressed connections between biosemiotics and ethics. The last ten years a new generation of scholars have started working out a biosemiotic ethics. The foundational idea is that if all living systems are semiotic, then biosemiosis can serve as basis for justifying attribution of moral status to human and non-human individuals and to various ecological entities. Most of the scholars involved in this endeavor have taken Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory as their starting point. Recent relevant publications include a translation of Uexküll’s 1917 article “Darwin and the English Morality”, with a framing essay entitled ““Darwin und die englische Moral”: The Moral Consequences of Uexküll’s Umwelt Theory”.

Relevant questions for discussion include but are not limited to the following: In what ways does a biosemiotic ethics potentially take us beyond sentience-centered approaches? Does biosemiotic ethics represent a new form of consequentialism, or should it be placed within some other tradition? What ramifications do different views on the semiotic threshold have within the context of normative ethics? Is there (something akin to) normativity in the very constitution of the Umwelt? Does the semiosphere at large (qua biosphere) have intrinsic value? And what, in terms of biosemiosis, is the origin of value?