Animality Keyword Wiki

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What is Animality?

Through this wiki, the discussion of our abstracts via commentpress, and our seminar session we can work toward a working definition of animality.

To come to this collective understanding of animality we will define 10 other keywords, as we understand them in relation to animality. Draw on whatever you please to describe these–personal experience, readings, activism. Don’t worry about formatting, grammar, style, or length of comment.

Choose at least 2 keywords. You may choose more than 2, but please make sure that you first choose keywords that don’t already have two people signed up.

To add to this page, simply click on the edit button above.

Though we are not asking you to comment on this page, feel free to use the commentpress functionality to leave a comment.



Names: Eliza Steinbock, Dylan McCarthy Blackston



Names: Christina Nadler

When I think of slaughter I think of disemboweled animals in factories. I think of slitting animals throats. I also think of white male masculinity and competition. One sports team slaughtering another. I think of war next, and genocide, particularly of Native Americans. The longer I free associate on the term, concept, action the broader it gets. It is always violent. And I think it is always animal. I don’t know if no matter the violence of a tsunami, or flood or fire that it could ever be a slaughter. The ocean doesn’t slaughter. Perhaps slaughter is a particular kind of violent animality. There is more to think through so I will leave it here for now.




Names: Annie Dwyer, Dylan McCarthy Blackston

Currently, in Norway, race as inflected by animality and coloniality is reemerging through the upcoming “exhibition” “European Attraction Limited”—a recreation of a human zoo in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of “The Congo Village” that appeared at the 1914 Oslo world fair—that is being bank rolled by the Norwegian government. The artists, Lars Cuzner and Mohamed Ali Fadlabi, assert that they are attempting to “understand the mechanisms of how something could be wiped from the collective memory” (

While the artists state that they want to draw attention to Norway’s colonial and racist history and participation is voluntary, the Black body is being re-made as a spectacle subject to the white gaze and the project seems to overlook the currently existing racism present in the country (Bwesigye, first link below). Aside from the assumption that zoos as spaces for non-human animals thereby placing human participants in this project “on the same footing as animals” (ibid.), I wonder if there might arise a deeper conversation about animality and its associations with race, art, and artistic practice—one that takes into account colonial histories without recapitulating racist colonial museum practices, which this exhibition most certainly does.

For more information:


Names: David Benin

It has its discontents, we know that.  A concept that seems to rely on its opposition for legibility, so why not start there to break it down.  In “The Trouble with Wilderness,” William Cronin suggests that wilderness is a “quite profoundly a human creation – indeed the creation of very particular human cultures at very particular moments  in human history.”  This idea, then, of “wilderness” is something of a paradox, as it “embodies a dualistic vision in which human is entirely outside the natural.”  If “civilization” creates something apart from itself, is it (wilderness) then at bay, a site for restive retreat and an idealistic – or dangerous! – imaginary?  Of course not, so Cronon offers a different take to break down the dualism.  Enter “wildness,” an attentiveness to the weeds in the cracks, the drips from storm gutters, the meandering snail – or at least a step towards the abandonment of natural/artificial and pristine/corrupted dualisms oft-invoked with civilization’s spoken or unacknowledged opposite.



Names: Annie Dwyer


Bodies and Environment

Names: David Benin, Benjamin Haber

“A living being of the most elementary type is a being that provisionally distinguishes itself from its milieu even as it draws on its resources and, in the process, transform them and itself. The line between inside and outside is tentative, open-ended, paradoxical but the condition under which a new kind of emergence is possible” Elizabeth Grosz from “Matter, Life and Other Variations. Or Why I am not a Materialist”

“This molecular understanding of the environment answers a previous intense era of molecularization of the body, but is distinct from it because of the foregrounding of molecular interrelation and critical timing rather than the search for answers in the structural enumeration of the molecules themselves; in epigenetics one sees an understanding of the body’s molecules as hung in the same network of interaction as environmental molecules, a network anchored and organized through the temporally sensitive interface of metabolism” Hanna Landecker from “Food as exposure: Nutritional epigenetics and the new metabolism”




Names: Xan Chacko, Eleanor Gold

From Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class:

[Pets] commonly are items of conspicuous consumption, and are therefore honorific in their nature and may legitimately be accounted beautiful. . . . The dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. . . . Even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith accounted beautiful by many. These varieties of dogs—and the like is true of other fancy-bred animals—are rated and graded in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the deformity takes in the given case. For the purpose in hand, this differential utility… is reducible to terms of a greater scarcity and consequent expense. The commercial value of canine monstrosities, such as the prevailing styles of pet dogs both for men’s and women’s use, rests on their high cost of production, and their value to their owners lies chiefly in their utility as items of conspicuous consumption. (1899, 139-142)

To echo Jesse: Control. Arrogance. Anthropocentrism. The notion of domestication is linked to taming and control. The domestic conscripts non-human life into the domicile.  It recaptures Nature into a controllable, productive, and usually fungible series of commodities. The processes of domestication are symptomatic of the Foucauldian disciplinarian regime. Domestication is usually slow, since the undesirable natural proclivities for wildness needs to be bred out. If the human is placed at the centre of the understanding of domestication then all the others are only able to be understood as coming into service of the human by the purifying processes of domestication.

A combination of Lamarkian and Darwinian processes are applied to the way that domestication is understood in Western science. From Lamarck we get the idea of inheritable traits and from Darwin natural selection. These theories get mobilised as a means of understanding what domestication means but it should not be misinterpreted as the beginning of domestication. Humans have been using selective breeding and training technologies to make non-humans come to their service for millennia.

However, I would like to consider a few ways of opening up the idea of Domestication to include non-human starting points, a new notion of home, and collaboration.

Non-human starting points: It isn’t until the Descent of Man that Darwin starts talking about humans, the Origins is mostly about animals. It could be argued that co-evolution is in fact a way of mutual domestication. The species that co-evolve to have symbiotic features are in fact always in a conversation with each other and are constantly being remade and affected by each other. Who is domesticating whom? A new notion of the home involves thinking outside the western individualistic notion of home and family. What if the space between the coevolution is the domestic? Why do we need to domesticate the ‘other’? The idea of nature as available as a palette for human intervention to domesticate does not take into account the push back from the different beings and temporalities.

Why do some species (think foxes) resist domestication? Is it just a matter of time?

Domestication makes me think of the biomedicalization of rhesus macaques, particularly in the US. As Neel Ahuja recently argued, the containment of the macaque to the lab emerged in full force during the Cold War era, when the macaque was domesticated as a “figure of national progress” via the medical industrial complex (Ahuja 2013, 84). He continues, “[w]hile in the 1930s monkeys, chimpanzees, and gorillas had typically been figured as representing the untamable nature of animality and were associated with mad scientists and the supposed danger of the colonial jungle, the use of rhesus and other primates by biomedical researchers contributed to a new view of monkeys and apes as kin to humanity” (72). It seems that this shift, amongst other colonial projects, contributed to overall affective exchanges between humans and macaques that propagate relational sentiment and served as hierarchical containment strategies (in this case, domestication) that further delineated humans from other primates.


Names: Xan Chacko, Jesse Houf

Control. Arrogance. Anthropocentrism. Humanness is a technology formed, crafted, and moulded to be separated from animality. To be human is the application of knowledge on the body, so the human is biotechnology. Animality is what, for biotechnology, is to be worked against, managed, and ultimately controlled. This is sounding very Foucaultian 🙂 More to follow….

Think of the different technologies that are involved in the processes of biotechnology. Technology has to do with practices or doings so some of the ones that we need for biotechnology are mostly borrowed from other sciences: titration, microscopy, photography, refrigeration, as well as some that are exclusive to the biotech world: incubation, growth, killing, propagation, reproduction etc. What’s fascinating is that the biotechs seem to be the kinds of processes that are happening in nature ‘naturally.’ What changes when humans start attempting and in some cases, perfecting, natural processes? What are the conditions of possibility for biotechnology? What are its limits? Where do we draw ethical lines in biotechnology. What makes some processes acceptable and others morally questionable?


Names: Eleanor Gold

When I was thinking about this term while not looking at the wiki, I replaced the word “digital” with “virtual”–a related term, but not a perfect synonym. Still, the examples/images I immediately thought of can also be described as “digital.”

Kelly Richardson’s “Twilight Avenger”

Spore, a 2008 video game by Maxis (National Geographic did a feature on it called How To Build a Better Being)–see also Jim Thomas’s article on the game in The Ecologist (sent to me by a student, in fact)

Both Richardson’s glowing stag and whatever creature you create in Spore stare at you out of the frame. Their gaze is impersonal, but nonetheless challenging–yet they are not real, they are decidedly fantastic. What does the gaze of a three-eyed, six-limbed cartoon monster challenge us to do?


Names: Eliza Steinbock, Benjamin Haber

I love how Animality is apparently a Mortal Kombat term that signifies when a character turns into an animal in order to “finish” their opponent:


Not totally sure what I have to say about this yet, but this Vox article going around is worth reading (title: “Buzzfeed’s founder used to write Marxist theory and it explains Buzzfeed perfectly”). It doesn’t really specifically address the centrality of cute animal pix to the success of Buzzfeed, but it does highlight the smooth path from critical cultural theory to banal cultural production. Also there is this:




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13 thoughts on “Animality Keyword Wiki

  1. David-this is really interesting. It has me thinking about this line I just read in “The Sexual Politics of meat” where she says not to call animals wild, but to call them free or free-roaming.This, along with the call to not call animals it, but always he or she, made me really uncomfortable. I see where she was coming from, but also thought that it was strange to use the language of “freedom” in regard to “wild” animals. In my head I had it as a dog in a pound is not free, a dog in a home is “free” and a wolf, well maybe a wolf is wild, free roaming, or something altogether outside of the terms we have in “civilization”.

    • Chrissy – your comment ties together a few ideas occurring on this board. Above, Benjamin notes the occasional problem of the creation of new concepts, words, etc., to push past so many dualisms. I’m often quite frustrated with this as well – it certainly owes much to publishing as a academic marketplace with an incentive to introduce new goods – because it seems to limit re-animating or exploring existing concepts in novel fashions. “Wild” here – in commonplace examples – needn’t be apart from notions of the domestic/civilized, but simply the destructive gleam in a dog’s eye or a house cat gone bonkers on catnip. I think how you problematize the tethering of freedom/wild is especially crucial, as that linkage undergirds so much animal politics (zoos, housepets) etc.,. (It probably also gets injected into discussions of homelessness and the sexual politics of relationships, too, but I really risk rambling!).

  2. I’ve never thought about it this way before–mutual domestication. It’s very interesting. These are such profound questions that you’re asking. I think you are calling into question what the domestic is and perhaps decentering where the human is in relation to it. Really excited to talk more about this at CSA.

  3. I just saw some videos of domesticated foxes on youtube the other day! Is this a new thing? Resistance is futile?

    • Yes, I’m interested in this statement too. The most famous fox story re: domestication is obviously that of the Soviet fox experiments, which seem to have had some limited success–although the limitations, it seems, have more to do with funding than with any innate resistance to domestication. I need to go back and track down the critiques of that experiment–I remember reading somewhere that there were some scientists who questioned the purported results–i.e. the relatively quick (for a longitudinal study) appearance of neoteny and its relationship to “tamed” behaviors (tail wagging, etc.)–especially with the relationship to wild fox behaviors. W/R/T the Veblen quote I posted earlier–I think that the conversation about domestication is very complex not just because of the human-animal relation but because there are so many different types of relationships. Our relationships with cows or chickens or bees (can bees even be said to be domesticated?) versus cats or dogs are totally different.

  4. I’m glad you’re talking about technology. Ben is also talking about technology. I feel for some reason that technology is a mental gap I’m having where for some reason I can’t figure out how to integrate it into my work. Especially biotechnology. But when I hear things like what you are saying they are so important to think about. Can’t wait to hear more about this at our seminar. Maybe something we should discuss explicitly is technology and animality.

    • The distinction between the digital and virtual interests me, as well, and looking at different notions of virtuality (Bergson, Grosz, Levy, Deleuze, et. al.)seems helpful for animality. In“On the Superiority of Analogue,” Massumi writes, “the medium of the digital is possibility, not virtuality, and not even potential” He continues, “digital conceptions in fact have a remarkably weak connection to the virtual, by virtue of the enormous power of their systematization” Massumi is contending that the process of binary coding reduces digital information to simple possibility, insofar as what can emerge from it has been determined in advance, reduced, and systematized. When Grosz reads Darwin through something like the virtual it might show us how some of these crit-theory approaches can simultaneously enliven (and be enlivened by) evolutionary and digital approaches.

  5. It’s interesting that we still have the word “slaughterhouse” to refer to the house where animals are slaughtered. One would almost expect a sustained effort at re-branding that didn’t so centralize the violence of the meat factory.

  6. There seems to be so many attempts to create new concepts or words to try to get past the various nature/culture like dualisms that are so boring to all of us. I love new words but it would interesting to talk about the efficacy of this strategy for bringing us to a place where we can really reframe larger conversations away from the dualisms that always seem to haunt discussions about nature/bodies/animals/etc. I’m also really interested in Vicki Kirby’s suggestion that we “generalize the assumed capacities of humanness in a way that makes us wonder about their true content” (this is from p.87 of Quantum Anthropologies)

  7. Chrissy–I found that article so interesting, and I was relieved to hear that it was something closer to an art project than an actual proposal to slaughterhouses. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if that idea had been floated already…She raises an interesting question as to whether virtuality has any meaning for animals, especially considering the differing kinds of perception that humans and animals likely have. What would VR for dogs be like? Virtual smells, not just sights/sounds? Virtual vibrations for cephalopods?

  8. From a Glossary on Foucault: Biopolitics and bio-power refer to the technologies, knowledges, discourses, politics and practices used to bring about the production and management of a state’s HUMAN resources. Biopower analyses, regulates, controls, explains and defines the HUMAN subject, its body and behavior.In what ways then does biopolitics mount an aggressive form of humanism? Is this a result of humanities and social science disciplines that take as their foundational, unquestioned subject, the HUMAN?And what can art practices tell us about the inscription of bio-power on the body?Seefor instance:Painting: AA Bronson, Felix June 5, 1994, 1994/1999;Photograph: Cathy Opie, Self-Portrait, 1993. 

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