EVENT Nov 30
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Animated Wor(l)ds: Language and Relationality for Multispecies Kinship

Categories: Postcolonial, Hispanic & Latino, Comparative, Interdisciplinary, Popular Culture, Rhetoric & Composition, World Literatures, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy, African & African Diasporas, Asian & Asian Diasporas, Australian Literature, Canadian Literature, Caribbean & Caribbean Diasporas, Indian Subcontinent, Eastern European, Mediterranean, Middle East, Native American, Scandinavian, Pacific Literature, Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2022-11-30 Abstract Due: 2022-11-30


Editors: Eva Spiegelhofer, Elizabeth Tavella

Download PDF on website: https://languageandrelationalitycfp.wordpress.com/ 

For this volume, we invite contributions that seek to cultivate multispecies kinship by encouraging alternative ways of relating to, thinking about, and entering into conversation with the animate world. Inspired by the etymological ties to the land of the verb cultivate, this work aims at digging deep down along the epistemic roots of anthroparchy (Cudworth). The casting of the “Human” as dominant species is largely responsible for our failure to connect with other animals as well as for our systematic erasure, silencing, and misrepresentation of more-than-human wor(l)ds. For a regenerative paradigm to emerge, we need new narratives and languages that help redefine interspecies relations and collaborations, following the footsteps of those who have paved the way towards re-imagining multispecies co-existence (e.g. Abram ‘organic attunement’, Andreyev ‘creative reciprocity’, Donald ‘ethical relationality’, Gruen ‘engaged empathy’, Haraway ‘making kin’, Kimmerer ‘grammar of animacy’, Westerlaken ‘distant intimacy’). 

The connection between languages and relational ecologies has recently been highlighted in this year’s UNDP Special Report, which recognizes that current declines in biodiversity “often parallel not only the destruction of livelihoods but also cultural losses, such as the disappearance of languages, affecting many Indigenous peoples and local communities” (14). How, then, can this ecological epistemicide be halted? While apparently the concern is framed from an ecological lens, the report is titled New Threats to Human Security in the Anthropocene, thus centering the safety of the “Anthropos” in an epoch markedly affected by human activities. The cultural and political weight that terms such as “Anthropocene” carry within them is reinforced by the many alternatives that have been proposed, ranging from Capitalocene (Moore) to Anglocene (Bonneuil and Fressoz) and Chthulucene (Haraway).

Because of the epistemological weight of words, human languages can turn into “a weapon used to discriminate, exploit, and dominate, to bolster certain ideologies and to maintain the status quo and social inequality” (Nguyen). Examples include the normalization of the rhetoric of invasive species (Stanescu & Cummings) and the linguistic erasure of other-than-human animals as absent referents (Adams), both resulting in broader ecological and social damages. Likewise, strategic communication by interest groups may contribute to climate inaction, thus connecting ideological denial to the slow violence of rhetorical neutrality (Almiron). 

In the face of these issues, academics, artists, and activists may respond in many ways: we can critically think through the current crises, we can speak up against injustices, or we can act upon them by practicing a paradigm shift in our ways of knowing, thinking, and relating. This volume is intended to promote this kind of action – by offering a toolkit on how to relate more justly and sustainably to the animate world. The power and potential of language can aid us in doing so, and the volume will therefore focus on the semiotic dimensions of relationality and on language in its relational capacity. 

In order to (re-)connect with our fellow earthlings, this project has the following objectives: 

  1. Turn the exclusionary logic of anthropo- and logocentrism on its head by making room for radically new discussions of more-than-human forms of language as meaningful, relational, even political (Meijer). This involves challenging epistemic and linguistic dichotomies (nature/culture, human/animal, wild/domesticated, etc.) and transforming these harmful oppositions into multispecies dialogues.
  2. Ask how languages may foster – or inhibit – multispecies kinship and which relational practices we could engage in that fully acknowledge the words of multispecies worlds. Language hereby encompasses various forms of meaning-making, including “birdsong, insect calls, even the patient shrugs and pulses of geology” (Newell, Quetchenbach, Nolan), that together make up the semiotic plurality of ‘internatural communication’ (Plec).
  3. Honor the personhood of other animals and acknowledge their role as worldbuilders and agents of change (Bovenkerk & Keularzt). This entails giving up language practices that reduce living beings to objects and commodities, and instead adopting languages that could be a means to bridge the gap between human and nonhuman injustice. 
  4. Encourage non-extractive and non-oppressive research methodologies as well as creative approaches that do not perpetuate speciesism and intersecting social oppressions (Struthers & Taylor; Potts & Brown).

With these concerns in mind, we invite authors to explore shared semiotic spaces, to reflect on language as a multispecies relational process and on how to write about other animals and lifeforms: How to amplify their voices (e.g. Colling ‘Animal Resistance’), how to translate their languages (e.g. Interspecies Internet), and how to practice multi-/interspecies research and art (e.g. Hamilton & Taylor ‘Ethnography after Humanism’)? What could interspecies collaboration look like (e.g. co-authorship in respect of consent, autonomy, and individual choices), and how can renaming practices (e.g. the Thick-billed Longspur) and/or the creation of alternative vocabularies (e.g. SpeciesRevolution.org) undermine histories of socio-ecological oppression and injustice? In the attempt to blur the boundary between theory and practice, we explicitly invite  fictional works, nonfiction essays, first-hand writings, dynamic/visual poetry, multimedia projects, and non-linguistic frameworks. To fully accommodate experimental, explorative, and creative contributions of this kind, we are considering a hybrid publication (print/digital). 

It is in this context that the volume seeks to engage with works around, but not confined to, the following themes:

  • Interspecies languages and communication 
  • Vegan epistemologies and ontologies
  • Multispecies ethnography and fieldwork
  • Ecolinguistics and bio-/zoosemiotics
  • Interspecies cooperation and multispecies flourishing (experiential/speculative)
  • Care ethics and queer interspecies intimacies 
  • Non-extractive research methodologies (decolonial/abolitionist)
  • Ecocriticism and rhetoric                                          
  • Animistic, sensory, and somatic approaches          
  • Creative collaborations across species boundaries

This call is open to researchers at any level of study as well as to activists, practitioners, and combinations thereof. We are especially interested in innovative approaches that break free from conventional separations between disciplines. While the language of publication is English, we highly encourage reflections from non-Anglophone perspectives and would be happy to discuss accommodations in case your project extends beyond English. 

Please send an abstract of your proposed chapter (250-500 words), a tentative title, and a short bio (200 words max) to Elizabeth Tavella (etavella@uchicago.edu) and Eva Spiegelhofer (eva.spiegelhofer@univie.ac.at) with the subject heading “Language and Relationality: Abstract”. If your project may include a digital component, please indicate it at this stage. The deadline for abstract submission is November 30, 2022. 

See website for references.



Elizabeth Tavella