Toward an Understanding of Nonhuman Minds: From Animal to Artificial Agency

Toward an Understanding of Nonhuman Minds: From Animal to Artificial Agency

Fynn Holm / Anne Aronsson / Melissa Kaul
Universität Zürich
Vom - Bis
05.06.2020 - 06.06.2020
Holm, Fynn

This international workshop will reconsider how nonhuman agency is conceptualized in current academic writing. In the pre-modern world, animistic societies believed that not only humans but also nonhuman beings (animals, spirits, ancestors, gods, etc.) could express agency. Scholars in the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, have long ignored claims of nonhuman agency or relegated them to the sphere of misguided anthropomorphism. In the 21st century, these long-held beliefs have come under renewed scrutiny. Recent scholarship places greater emphasis on recognizing and describing nonhuman forms of agency, for example, by looking at the agency of nonhuman animals and artificial intelligence. Area specialists have claimed that Japanese culture less strictly segregates the human and nonhuman spheres, which may be one of many factors contributing to the broader acceptance of robots in Japan.

The workshop offers a platform for collaboration and the exchange of ideas by reassessing the possibilities, boundaries, and capacities of addressing nonhuman agency. The following questions will be asked: (1) How do diverse academic fields conceptualize nonhuman agency? (2) What analytical advantages, if any, does considering nonhuman agency bring to academic writing?

While this workshop is open to scholars at any stage of their academic career, it especially encourages participation from Ph.D. students/candidates and early postdoctoral fellows. We invite papers from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (including, but not limited to, anthropology, history, human-animal studies, literature, and sociology) on any topic related to:

- New methodological approaches to addressing nonhuman agency in academic writing
- Theoretical reflections on nonhuman agency
- Specific case studies of nonhuman agency (e.g., nonhuman animals and/or artificial intelligence)
Interested scholars are asked to send a 400-word paper proposal and a CV to,, and by 31 January 2020. Those who are accepted will be expected to prepare a manuscript of 3,000 words by 30 April 2020. The manuscripts will be preliminarily circulated and discussed among the participants and invited experts during the workshop. Based on the feedback provided at the workshop, the manuscripts may afterward be extended to 7,000-word papers for an edited volume or special issue. The costs of travel to and lodging in Zurich can be partially reimbursed.



Fynn Holm

Universität Zürich, Asien-Orient-Institut, Zürichbergstrasse 4, 8032 Zürich

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