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People, Products, Pests and Pets: the discursive representation of animals

   Department of Education & Professional Studies- Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy

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  Prof G Cook  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

PhD studentship at King’s College London
The research project 'People, products, pests and pets: the discursive representation of animals' (Leverhulme £249K) will run at King's College London and The University of Birmingham from September 2013-2016.

To work on the project, we are seeking applications for 2 three-year PhD studentships (one at King’s, one in Birmingham). This advertisement relates to the studentship at King’s. The Birmingham studentship will be advertised separately.

Further details of the project are below.

The successful applicant will receive an annual maintenance grant of £15,590 and an annual contribution of £3828 towards payment of their fees for 3 years. (The 2013 annual fee is £4300.)

The successful applicant will have already completed MA study with a research training component at the time of beginning their PhD.

The PhD student will investigate an aspect of the contemporary discursive representation of animals in a language other than English, using a similar methodology to the main project, working in liaison with the project team and under supervision of the PI (Professor Guy Cook). We should expect intensive participation by the student in the main study during their first year, followed by more independent study in the following years. The language to be studied, the precise topic of the research, and the methodology will be negotiated with the best applicant within the parameters above.

Informal enquiries can be made to the principal investigator Professor Guy Cook [Email Address Removed] . Applicants will need to apply to study for a PhD at King’s College London through the normal on-line procedures.

People, Products, Pests and Pets: the discursive representation of animals

Project Summary
Both scientific research and changes to the environment have brought a new urgency to understanding of the boundary and relationship between humans and animals. The project will examine how language choices realise specific stances towards animals (e.g. as surrogate humans, objects of affection, industrial products, experimental models, pests). Findings will be relevant to both natural and social scientists, and inform public debates such as those over the ethics of industrial farming, food production and consumption, genetic modification, animal experiments, and hunting, and more generally the balance between economic and conservationist criteria in decision making.

The project will collect extensive empirical data encompassing a wide range of discourse about animals, and investigate how linguistic choices within that data relate to particular scientific, philosophical, ethical, popular and practical stances towards them. Our findings will: deepen theoretical understanding of the relation between the linguistic system of English, choices made within it, and representations of animals; illuminate the degree to which established ways of talking and writing are attuned to describing the rapidly changing environment in which humans and animals co-exist; and provide evidence about whether current ways of speaking and writing contribute to, or detract from, positive action in sustaining that co-existence.

The project uses a distinctive methodology to create an overview of the many ways in which animals feature in human practices, and how the views of those communicating professionally about animals relate to the language they use and its effects. Our data will be of three kinds: (a) texts (both writing and transcribed speech) representing animals, (b) interviews with those producing such texts, and (c) focus groups reflecting their reception by the public. The analytical method used will reveal the inter-relationships between them.
First we shall collect a large digital database of texts about animals drawn from sources such as newspapers, wildlife broadcasts, campaigning literature, food product labels, etc. This corpus will be analysed using specialised linguistic software to reveal frequent patterns of language use. Second we shall conduct and transcribe a series of interviews with some producers of such texts, again drawn from a wide range of interests and practices in relation to animals: broadcasters, scientists, environmentalists, animal welfare campaigners, farmers’ representatives, and others, to elicit their views on the best language to achieve their purposes. The third dataset is transcriptions of focus groups, some with various interest groups, others with members of the general public, to ascertain their responses to a series of selected texts from the corpus. In this way we shall be able to correlate analysis of texts about animals with insights into their production and reception, thus avoiding the danger of over reliance on textual analysis alone. At the same time, the transcribed spoken data, from the interviews and focus groups will itself be added to the digital corpus of discourse about animals, for additional linguistic analysis

One of the two PhDs on the project (at King’s) will add a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural dimension to the findings by investigating aspects of the representation of animals in a language other than English; the other PhD (at Birmingham) will add a diachronic dimension by investigating an aspect of how representations of animals in English have changed historically.
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