Rethinking Animal Abilities

Andy Flack's picture

Thriving in the Darkness: Rethinking Ability through the Animal Lens

What do we mean when we speak of ‘abilities’ and how can an animal historical approach expand and deepen our understanding of what is a rather slippery and multidimensional concept? In this paper, Andy Flack (PI) and Alice Would (PDRA) will discuss findings emerging from the AHRC funded project ‘Dark-dwellers as more-than-human misfits’, where concepts from animal studies, disability studies and environmental history have been brought into contact with each other. Examination of nocturnal species case studies – from bats to hedgehogs and star-nosed moles – reveal that ‘ability’ in the animal context relates to several connected ideas and phenomena, not least specialization, adaptation, the focused attention on ‘special’ sensory organs and neurological pathways, and the idealized coherence between body and its wider environment. We also show that the idea of ability is inseparable from notions of vulnerability, resilience and co-dependence as dark-dwelling beings have been progressively marginalized in a world manipulated to suit the physical and sensory demands of the dominant and normative human animal. We are mindful of the fact that disability and animality have been brought into contact in highly problematic ways, but we want to argue that exploring ‘ability’ at this point of contact uncovers discourses that transcend the human realms [AW1] by highlighting the ways in which the power of the normative group (species) might shape the lives of all living beings, and the ways in which marginalisation and/or inclusion spring directly from the coherence between a specific and diverse body and the wider environment.

Date: 1st June

Time: 3-4:30pm BST

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