The Politics of the Human

To think of oneself primarily as a human being is to discount, in some way, the significance of the divisions we otherwise maintain between people. This is a powerful ethical ideal, and often deployed in challenging racism, xenophobia, misogyny, ultra- nationalism: the many hatreds of the ‘other’ that dwell obsessively on the differences between us, and treat these as incompatible with living peacefully side by side. But insisting on our common humanity can also reinforce the belief that difference is a problem, and may encourage us to ignore the very real inequalities currently attached to difference. When we are called upon to ‘look beyond’ our differences, the effect is to erase the body, render insignificant the very characteristics that make us who we are, and divert us from analysis of the power relations that have made those characteristics matter. In this research, I explore the way notions of the human are deployed in literatures on human rights, humanitarianism, and global justice. While I defend a politics of the human that enables us to assert our equality, I start from the assumption that the ‘human’ should be neither so loaded with substance that it becomes the basis for hierarchy nor so lacking in content that it becomes a disembodied abstraction.

Project leader(s):
  • Anne Phillips (London School of Economics)

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