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Speaking about the Humans. Animal perspectives on the multispecies world 

This one-day interdisciplinary workshop aims to get a better understanding of other animals’ perspectives on humans and the implications of these perspectives for developing better relations. | 17-18 March 2022

Prairie dogs discuss humans in detail. Elephants have a word for humans. Sperm whales warn each other about human attacks. Many if not most more-than-human animals need to deal with human intrusion in their lives in some way – as companions, workers, prey, for tourism or in other roles – and communicate with one another and humans about this. They do so in order to survive, but perhaps sometimes also to maintain their culture and communities, out of affection or for fun.  

For the purposes of this workshop, we propose to understand ‘speaking about humans’ broadly such as (combination of) sounds, bodily movements, facial expressions (kinesics), touch (haptics), space (proxemics), and sensorial capacities. Examples to think of are throwing feces to human visitors in zoos, leaving one’s habitat, changing one’s color, misleading humans, or passing on cultural, including linguistic, knowledge in embodied ways. 

This one-day interdisciplinary workshop aims to get a better understanding of other animals’ perspectives on humans and the implications of these perspectives for developing better relations. We invite presentations on the following and other questions: 

  • How do we know that animals speak about humans? Do they speak as an individual and/or as a group? Are animal languages species-specific, communal or individual? 
  • What could be humans’ ideologies/impediments for (not) recognizing that animals speak about them? 
  • What do animals say about humans, and how do they say it and how do we know?  
  • How can we develop new listening practices and (how) should we speak back? 
  • What is the role of anthropomorphism in better understanding other animals? What are possible nonhuman animal equivalents of this practice? 
  • What are the ethical and political implications of the fact that animals speak about humans? Are their messages always political? 
  • Do (animal) scientists/humans recognize their own language as violent? Should they?  
  • How can animal perspectives inform our ideas about just multispecies societies? Should they? 
  • Do we need new interspecies languages and/or cultural practices for the Anthropocene? 

This workshop will take place online. Invited speakers will be asked to present a 20-minute paper. To participate, please send a 100-300 word abstract to eva1.meijer@wur.nl before July 1st. Participants will be notified before August 1st. Organisation: Eva Meijer (University of Amsterdam) and Leonie Cornips (NL-Lab KNAW). Confirmed participants: Sue Donaldson (Queen’s University, Kingston) , Con Slobodchikoff (Northern Arizona University). 

This event is hosted by ASCA, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.