Presentation Title
Between the Human and the Person: A Critical Inquiry into the Subject of Rights
Start Date
Start Time
End Time
Gibson S296

Discussant: Andrew Gates

Between the Human and the Person: A Critical Inquiry into the Subject of Rights

Historically, various categories of human beings (e.g. slaves, women) were denied personhood; not every member of the human species was considered to be a rights-bearing subject. We have come to see these exclusions as unacceptable prejudices of a bygone era particularly with the rise of a human rights framework that establishes each human being as a person entitled to a set of fundamental, inalienable rights. The peculiar formula of “the human person,” inscribed in many human rights documents, suggests that personhood has finally become coextensive with humanity. Engaging with the works of Hannah Arendt and Roberto Esposito, this presentation takes issue with some of the widely shared assumptions about personhood, especially the idea that personhood is a universally shared and inherently given human attribute. It highlights how this legal artifact continues to be characterized by hierarchies and remains to be elusive for many groups–a problem that exposes us once again to the gap between “the human” and “the person.”

Ayten Gündoğdu is Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College-Columbia University. Her research draws on the resources of modern and contemporary political theory for the purposes of addressing problems related to human rights, migration, citizenship, and sovereignty. She is the author of Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford University Press, 2015; Yale Ferguson Award, ISA-Northeast; ISA Theory Honorable Mention). The book offers a critical inquiry of human rights by rethinking Arendt’s key concepts and arguments in light of contemporary phenomena such as immigration detention, deportation, refugee encampment, and struggles for regularization. She is currently working on a new project that examines how the concept of “the human person” figures in the human rights discourse, attending to its violent exclusions as well as inventive reappropriations.