Telling story of change in our world

The Chair of European Ethnology of Professor Michaela Fenske invites you to an international conference on Environmental Humanities research at the beginning of August.

The poster for the Multispecies Conference shows the outlines of wood bees and a honey bee, which are being researched at the Chair in their relevance to cultural studies.
The poster for the Multispecies Conference shows the outlines of wood bees and a honey bee, which are being researched at the Chair in their relevance to cultural studies. (Image: Luise Stark / Uni Würzburg)

How do people tell stories about the extinction of species and climate change, how about social crises? What role do non-human creatures play in these narratives? And: What stories about hope and expectations for the future do we share? These are the questions that the international conference “Narrating the Multispecies World” at the University of Würzburg (JMU) will address from 3 to 5 August. It is being organized by Professor Michaela Fenske’s Chair of European Ethnology.

Over the course of three days, there will be almost 15 contributions from cultural and social science environmental research. “We want to show the ways in which people tell each other about our changing world,” explains Fenske. “And we want to find stories that give hope – especially in this day and age when many people feel uncertainty and fear about the future.”

Understanding which narratives and narrative forms are present in societies provides cultural studies with important information, says Fenske. “For example, about how people perceive their environment, what drives them and why they position themselves in this or that way on topics such as climate change, wars or other social and ecological crises.

Conference focuses on the multispecies world

It is important to the conference organizers to show the participants very concretely how different forms of storytelling influence their daily lives. “Crisis storytelling affects everyone,” Fenske knows, “we all do it, whether it’s in the form of chatting over the garden fence or during a coffee break at work.”

For a holistic cultural studies approach, she adds, it is also important to look at the interplay between humans and non-human living beings. “Our conference explicitly focuses on the multispecies world,” says Fenske. “Everywhere, humans do not live alone, but are connected with plants, animals and micro-organisms. As a result, these living beings also have an effect on how people tell each other about their environment.” For example, the ethnologist Gurbet Peker from Uppsala University will report on narratives about sheep on the Swedish island of Gotland.

The conference addresses challenges of the present time that primarily affect young generations and their future living conditions. Because of the young target audience, the event has been deliberately scheduled for the end of the summer semester – students (as well as the unemployed) can participate free of charge. In addition, many lectures will be given by researchers at an early stage of their careers. The event is financed, among other things, by appeal funds from the State of Bavaria.

Chair of European Ethnology

The Chair of European Ethnology at the University of Würzburg, headed by Professor Michaela Fenske, is concerned with the study of everyday cultures in Europe. One focus is on the study of material and immaterial aspects of the present and history, such as values, traditions and social practices. Research interests include studies of multispecies relations, the anthropology of the rural, the study of narrative culture and historical anthropology.

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