Metonymic Cuties Small Proposal
This small proposal has now been funded by the University of Wollongong, and we've put in an application to the ARC for a larger grant.


[See also Individuation In Ecological Debate.]
Expression of Interest: Special Research Initiatives Scheme: Dr Alison Moore, ELL
Title: Metonymic Cuties ' The linguistics of individuation in ecological debate
Aims & significance: This proposal is for seed funding to develop an 'eco-linguistics' project which will examine a range of influential discourses that discuss (or underpin discussions about) animal welfare, ecology and environment protection in order to:
i) identify patterns of grammar and argument in these discourses which promote an unreflective conflation of the concepts of species and individual in non-human organisms
ii) examine the extent to which such patterns promote an unproductive slippage between concern for the interests of species as ecological entities and the interests of members of such species.
iii) identify possible collaborations between eco-linguistics, animal studies, and philosophical approaches to the study of animal and human wellbeing, including the well-established approaches of environmental ethics.
Improving animal welfare and protecting the environment are two political priorities which arguably are becoming more prevalent and more mainstream in Australia and elsewhere. Although these priorities share a move away from a conservative agenda in general, they invoke ' at least some of the time ' conflicting views of animals and of the processes by which we should make decisions that involve harm to animals. Discourses of animal welfare (and, even more so, discourses of animal rights) primarily value individual animals as themselves. By contrast, in discourses of ecology, the environment, and sustainability animals primarily have value for what they represent to us: non-human individuals represent species, while species in turn may represent human economic, cultural or symbolic value (e.g. kangaroo as food, 'the' kangaroo as national icon, and 'a' kangaroo as a human-like character in fiction, respectively). Such differences in how animals are valued makes it difficult for these perspectives and the stakeholder groups they imply to engage productively in public debate. A key part of this problem is that both ecological and animal welfare discourses tend to conflate individual concerns with the concerns of the species. This is significant because applied ecological debate typically uses species terms in a way that suggests the doing of good for the members of the species in question, when in fact the actions in question may be extremely harmful to those animals (qua individuals).
Approach: The proposal is to explore how our habitual ways of talking and writing about animals predispose us to make these conflations. A particular concern is the grammatical potential in English for ambiguity about whether one is referring to an individual or a group. This first appears to be a problem with definite reference in English (e.g. in 'the magpie is a clever bird' ' the article is definite, indicating specific reference, but that reference may be to an individual magpie or to magpies as a group). However, I hypothesise that a new and better account of these phenomena will be given by examining the interactions between selections of grammatical features, such as reference, person, number and process type. For example, we would not find 'the magpie is using the stick to extract a worm' ambiguous in terms of reference, not because of the choice of article/ determiner, but because interactions between choices in reference, verb type, person and number.
This project will draw on established systemic functional and applied linguistics approaches drawing on work on ecolinguistics and ideology (Fill & Muhlhausler 2006, Halliday 1990, Martin 1986). The project will link in with my ongoing work on register theory and applications, on participative processes and institutional discourse, and on integrating text-analytic research with interview and reception studies.
Phase 1: In keeping with the applied focus of this project, a brief stakeholder analysis will be conducted: this will identify the important groups currently using the language in question for political rhetorical purposes, and will analyse the extent to which stakeholder groups overlap. A literature review will also be prepared
Phase 2: The project will identify a suitable corpus of texts generated by the stakeholders identified in phase 1.
Phase 3: The project will analyse these texts using dimensions of rhetoric, argument, reference and cohesion. This will incorporate literary criticism and image analysis as appropriate. An ARC grant will prepared for 2011.
Outcomes: A small research workshop; a well researched grant application to a national funding body such as the ARC; at least one publication of interim results. Professor Paul Griffiths of the University of Sydney, one of the world's leading philosophers of biology, has expressed interest in joining this project. Given his involvement, prospects for a large ARC grant or similar are very positive.
Budget: Research Assistance (60 hrs x HEW 5 $40.35 per hour including on costs) $2421
(literature review 16 hours; sampling 16 hours, text analysis 28 hours)
Meeting room hire for stakeholder workshop at UOW 200
Travel (train or car travel expenses reimbursed to invitees from Sydney 200
Total $2821