(Un)Common Worlds 2018

Deep dive into the world of animals

The University of Turku organises the first international conference on human-animal studies in Finland on 7–9 August 2018. More than 260 delegates from different countries are expected to participate. Turku Convention Bureau and support by City of Turku also played a significant role when the decision of the conference destination was made.

The conference has a bold approach to the topic: how human and animal relationships are intertwined. This enticing and even confrontational ground is accessed through the perspectives of humanists, social scientists, artists as well as philosophers.

“Humanists, social scientists and even artists are interested in the relationships between humans and other animals,” tells Heta Lähdesmäki, one of the event organisers and a PhD student in cultural history. Alongside her, the active organisers of the conference include PhD student in cultural history Otto Latva and PhD student in comparative literature Jouni Teittinen.

Latva describes how the relationship between humans and other animals is seen to be intertwined. It is considered as a relationship that is constructed together by both humans and other animals in which the animal perspective is also taken into account.

“Philosophers will also be participating,” continues Teittinen. In addition, the voice of the natural and environmental scientific study of animals will be heard at the conference. One of the keynote speakers is academic and author Helena Telkänranta who currently conducts research at the University of Bristol. Among other things, she has written a book about what it is like to be an animal. In addition, Telkänranta has studied animal behaviour and cognition in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki. Other keynote speakers include Associate Professor in environmental geography Jamie Lorimer (University of Oxford, UK) and Professor Erica Fudge (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK) who has studied human-animal relations extensively.

A great leap to international terrain

The force behind the conference is the Finnish Society for Human-Animal Studies (YKES). Lähdesmäki, Latva and Teittinen have been active members of its board. It was already ten years ago when a dream of organising an international conference in addition to the annual national human-animal studies conferences was born. The organisation of the conference was also supported by the Finnish Association of Applied Ethology that donated money to YKES as the operations of the ethology association ceased. The last wish from the association was that a large conference would be organised where also natural scientists would be welcomed.

In addition, the (Un)Common Worlds conference is supported by the Kone Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Southwest Finland Regional Fund and the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies. City of Turku, Visit Turku and Turku Convention Bureau are also strongly investing in the cooperation.

Turku Convention Bureau has offered the new conference organisers plenty of support. Free of charge, Turku Convention Bureau has helped in comparing and choosing services and in international marketing of the conference.

Turku Convention Bureau and support by City of Turku also played a significant role when the decision of the conference destination was made. Turku was selected because many YKES board members are located there and also because of the functional cooperation with the University of Turku.

An important key person for the local host committee has also been the hired conference secretary Tiina Salmia. The conference and its parallel sessions will be organised on the University of Turku campus in the Publicum and Educarium buildings.

Huge interest in Turku

The interest from academics and conference delegates has been immense. They have received a good number of papers:

“We have received more than two hundred abstracts, which is a significant number. Approximately half are from abroad,” says Latva.

Similar human-animal studies conferences are organised globally every now and then but there is room for more. The largest one is the Minding Animals International Conference organised every three years.

“I participated the Minding Animals conference in Mexico. It gathers together very many academics, artists and activists, and that is our goal, too. We promoted the Turku conference there, and people were very excited about it,” tells Heta Lähdesmäki.

“I’m sure many people have googled to find out where Turku even is,” laughs Otto Latva. “It’s great that people want to come to Turku. This field of studies doesn’t have a large selection of conferences so the event will attract people globally.”

Latva says that the objective is also to get the conference to spawn publications based on the papers. The research of the field has been on the rise since the turn of the millennium.

“For instance, studying animals in art mostly focused on inspecting them as symbols or allegories, focusing on what the animal representations tell about culture and humans. Now, academics are also interested in what kinds of active roles are assumed by animals. It has been observed that animals, too, are subjects,” describes Jouni Teittinen.

Questions of animal ethics have become more visible in the public discussion. In Finland, YKES’s role has been to bring together academics from different universities and fields of study.

International guests in Turku

The conference delegates will get to see Turku city historic center on a walking tour hosted by historian and architect Panu Savolainen. The conference website features places to see. For instance, a visit to the Tuulispää Animal Sanctuary in Somero where former production animals enjoy retirement is recommended for the delegates. Kurjenrahka National Park is also introduced.

During the evenings conference delegates will look for especially the vegetarian and vegan restaurants and cafés. Brewery Restaurant Koulu will also offer a vegan buffet for one of the evenings. “A reception by the City of Turku is also a lovely gesture,” says Lähdesmäki.
From production animals to symbolism of mythology

The theme of the conference is extensive to include as many approaches from human-animal studies as possible. (Un)Common Worlds emphasises the connection between humans and other animals. At the conference there are discussions on everything from production animals to symbolism. The animal studies field also includes more political, so-called critical animal studies, that questions the exploitation of animals.

As a curiosity, also the Cat Group discussing the relationship between cats and humans could be mentioned. On the other hand, there is also a theme of animals and death.

“We don’t only discuss what is related to the actual material relationships between humans and animals but also animal representations. An example of this could be the representations of animals in different religious mythologies, such how Indian animal imagery,” says Teittinen.

There is also an open lecture for the local people in Turku who could in this way participate in the event. The three keynote lectures of the conference are also open for all.

“Many of the people have been very interested in the exotic Turku and Finland. It’s often hard to perceive as a local how interesting this place where we live is,” summarises Otto Latva.

Congress webpages

Text: Sini Silvàn
Photos: Mika Okko