Information and graduate study opportunity for the new 5-year research project Sarah is embarking on with Alex Oehler.

Project Description

Animals, plants, and humans share an ancient history of nonverbal communication. In post-industrial societies, such as our own, fine-tuned interspecies communication is rapidly being lost, co-effecting unchecked exploitation of our planet’s nonhuman worlds. The project’s study of nonverbal interspecies communication will explore shared somatic modalities such as posture, gesture, scent, and sound, as well as metaphysical awareness in animals, plants, and humans, pushing current debates in the nonhuman turn, animal and plant studies, and the growing field of interspecies communication. We also seek to raise awareness in the general public for our own species’ potential to effectively communicate with living beings by heightening our sensory awareness. We choose the Northern Hemisphere as our laboratory for its unique historical and ethnographic record of nuanced nonhuman-human entanglements.

Our objectives: We aim to record intangible and material multispecies cultural heritage to better understand the needs, intentions, and life worlds of other-than-human beings. Based on our team’s longstanding experience, we will use ethnographic methods (including sound and film) to explore new ways of understanding embodiment, immersion, and experiential apprenticing. Our objective is divided into three parts, based in guiding research questions:

1) “How do animals, plants and humans engage the senses to establish shared meaning?”
2) “How do differences in time/space perception (e.g. life rhythm) feature in interspecies communication?”
3) “What learned nonverbal communicative acts have people observed in wild and domestic animals and plants?”

Our team: Alex Oehler, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Regina (Principle Investigator), has 10+ years of experience in Siberian multispecies ethnography with hunters and herders, as well with Inuit hunters of the Western Canadian Arctic. Sarah Abbott, Associate Professor in the Department of Film at the University of Regina (co-applicant) has research focused in public and multispecies ethnography, Indigenous and Western colonial plant-human relations, and ethnographic film. The project’s international group of collaborators focus on Mongolian Studies, animal migration, and satellite tracking, linguistics and animal communication, interspecies sensory studies, extinction studies, voice and sound recording, equine sensory research, and wildlife ecology.

Why now: Isolating human and nonhuman life worlds is problematic not only for those lacking speech (animals and plants, including trees/forests). Our anthropocentric way of life poses a growing challenge for humanity itself: We are losing our ability to recognize the intent of nonhumans (Weston 2017), while driving an unsustainable disequilibrium between production and consumption. Re-learning our species’ ancient methods of communicating with the sentient world has transformative potential for sustainable long-term planning in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, food distribution, and wildlife conservation. Our research seeks to strengthen those who are at the forefront of academic, political, and social change toward a more equitable world in which all sentient beings can participate in the co-construction of a future that will sustain all our relations for many generations to come.

Reference
Weston, K., 2017. Animate planet: making visceral sense of living in a high-tech ecologically damaged world. Duke University Press.

Sensory Acts: Graduate Studies Opportunity
Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance | University of Regina

The Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance (MAP) graduate program at the University of Regina (Saskatchewan, Canada) seeks applicants for partially-funded graduate study toward a Master of Fine Arts or a Master of Arts degree beginning September 2022. Candidates interested in pursuing critical qualitative and arts-based research involving nonverbal interspecies communication with plants and/or animals, more-than-human research, sentient ecologies, ethnographic practice, film production and/or other art and historical art practices in Theatre, Performance, Visual Arts, Creative Technologies, Sound Studies and expanded cinema are welcome to apply. One position is available. The successful applicant will be based in either the MAP Interdisciplinary Program or the Department of Film for the 2-year program of study.

The research process and outcomes of the successful applicant will be affiliated with the interdisciplinary project, Sensory Acts: More Than Human Communication in the Circumpolar North, overseen by Dr. Alex Oehler and Dr. Sarah Abbott. Funding for the successful applicant is available in the form of $12,000 CAD per year for two years (total $24,000 CAD) along with travel, per diem and fieldwork costs for a study period of 3 months in summer 2023. Additional funding may be sought through applications for a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA), University of Regina scholarships, and/or external funding sources such as SSHRC.

Candidates should have a demonstrated capacity for independent and original inquiry, interdisciplinary methods and analytical frameworks. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a related field is required; previous coursework, research, and/or professional experience in related areas would be helpful. All qualified individuals are encouraged to apply, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups, including people who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, with mixed abilities, LGBTQ+, and women. 

To initiate an application, please email a brief statement of interest, research proposal (max 500 words), and CV as a single PDF to Dr. Sarah Abbott (sarah.abbott@uregina.ca) and to Dr. Alex Oehler (alex.oehler@uregina.ca). Please do not include links to online materials as they will not be opened. For the second stage of the application process, transcripts, two letters of reference, and research/portfolio  evidence will be requested. We will consider applications until the position is filled, with a deadline of June 13. Following informal acceptance, the candidate will officially apply to the relevant MAP graduate program through the University of Regina Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research application portal. There will be a standard application fee, as indicated on the portal. The final application will be vetted and admission determined by the relevant MAP Graduate Committee. To learn more about MAP and its programs please visit the MAP webpages. We look forward to hearing from you.

Image credit: “Sensory” by benjaflynn is marked with CC BY 2.0.