13.12.2021 - 10:15
On 13 December at 10:15 Mirko Cerrone will defend his doctoral thesis “Interspecies relationships: a zoosemiotic analysis of human-ape communication” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Semiotics and Culture Studies).
Professor Timo Maran, University of Tartu
Research Fellow Nelly Mäekivi, University of Tartu
Senior Research Fellow Matthew Chrulew, Curtin University (Australia)
Assistant Professor Filip Jaroš, University of Hradec Králové (Czech Republic)
We cannot avoid encountering other species because humans do not live in isolation from other members of the animal world. We share our spaces with a multitude of other animal species. This thesis provides a semiotic analysis of interspecies communication in hybrid environments by focusing on human-ape interactions. In this work, we define communication as the process of creation and negotiation of meaning arising from social interactions in the animal kingdom. We focus on animals with more complex umwelten, whose social interactions are complex and multi-individual. A (zoo)semiotic approach enables us to abandon an anthropocentric perspective and adopt that of other species. The umwelt model proves to be an inspiring and powerful tool that we can use to (partially) access the world of other organisms. In this dissertation, we develop the concept of "umwelt overlap", that is, the idea that the umwelt should not merely be understood as a species-specific nor as an organism-specific model, but rather it should be expanded to encompass areas of shared meanings. Our approach allows us to analyze social communication of different species aiming to better the welfare of animals in captivity.
In this thesis, we propose a model suitable for analyzing social communication that is sensitive to the species-specific features of the species under analysis. We show how mutually intelligible languages are created during interaction that allow two different species to communicate. Different animal species undergo an extensive modification of their semiotic environment due to the acquisition and usage of new signs, a phenomenon that we link to the concept of umwelt transition. We determine that animals in captivity shape institutional practices and other human-made sign systems. Some animals may bring changes to institutional practices by influencing handling practices, including enrichment and work routines. Repeated interactions bring about new meanings and behaviors within hybrid environments. We propose that keepers should be seen as social companions of apes in captivity, and their relationship should be valorized. Keepers may elicit intraspecific behavior and enrich apes' living conditions by providing multilayered social interactions. They should thus be seen as an integral part of welfare analysis and enrichment strategies.