Comment to the paper Habitability as capability

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Marion Borderon

Mar 15, 2023, 1:43:32 AMMar 15
to PERNSeminars - List

From Carol Farbotko 

 To understand habitability in terms of freedom and capabilities seems very promising. To dig a little deeper, under this approach, where does uninhabitability fit? Is uninhabitability even possible? If so, are we able to be understand it also in terms of freedom and capabilities? If ‘least habitable’ means only access to some very basic capabilities, uninhabitability should be a complete absence of access to basic capabilities. Does this differ from or reinforce an intuitive understanding of uninhabitability as the impossibility of the continuance of life? Thinking about uninhabitability highlights the usefulness of the capabilities approach in bringing to the fore the role of people (eg. in the form of a state, civil society, grassroots movements) in supporting other people’s continuance of life, rather than an over-determined role for the environment. And yet the capabilities approach also somehow seems to eliminate place. Can we advance a capabilities approach to habitability by considering the hypothetical situation of a community choosing, as their utmost expression of freedom, to stay in place when there is a complete absence of access to basic capabilities?  

David O'byrne

Mar 16, 2023, 4:47:56 AMMar 16
to Marion Borderon, PERNSeminars - List

Hi Carol,

Thanks for these thoughtful insights.  

On the question of uninhabitability – That should, according to this approach, be defined by the people in the place in question. I was perhaps assuming that most people would define a place as least habitable if it only provided them with ‘basic’ capabilities such as food and shelter, but certainly people might define basic capabilities very differently, and they could certainly be symbolic as opposed to the material ones I suggest.

I do not really see how this approach eliminates place. I would say it centres place in that it argues that all people that are affected by decisions that affect a particular place should have a part in making those decisions. With that said, because it focuses on capabilities, human freedoms, the extent to which, and the way in which, that place is valued in those decisions, will reflect the values that those people hold for that place. Though this might be considered anthropocentric, I do not see how an eco-centric alternative could be constructed where the value of nature is not somehow translated through some human value.

Leaving aside the question of how people might choose to define a basic capability, freedom is of course central to Sen’s thought. He distinguishes between capability and functioning for this reason. Functionings are the actual states that people achieve i.e. being nourished, being sheltered. Capability is the opportunity to achieve these states. He uses the “functioning” of nourishment to drive home the importance of capability and freedom. There is a huge difference between being hungry because you are impoverished and because you are on hunger strike. Whereas for the former you do not have the capability of being nourished for the latter you do but you choose not to be, even if the functioning state is the same. I think according to this thinking what would be important would be that people have the possibility to choose to leave to pursue other freedoms. If they ultimately decide not to, and it is truly under no coercive pressure, even if quite subtle, then that is an expression of their freedom and not something that this approach would try to prevent.



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