Skip to main content

Deconstructing Anthropos: A Critical Legal Reflection on ‘Anthropocentric’ Law and Anthropocene ‘Humanity’

Abstract

The present reflection draws upon a tradition of energetic, world-facing critical legal scholarship to interrogate the anthropos assumed by the terminology of ‘anthropocentrism’ and of the ‘Anthropocene’. The article concludes that any ethically responsible future engagement with ‘anthropocentrism’ and/or with the ‘Anthropocene’ must explicitly engage with the oppressive hierarchical structure of the anthropos itself—and should directly address its apotheosis in the corporate juridical subject that dominates the entire globalised order of the Anthropocene age.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. The most well known of such positions in relation to law is that of Earth Jurisprudence. For iconic examples, see Berry (1999) and Cullinan (2002). For an enthusiastic contemporary application, Burdon (2014). For critique of the anthropocentric-ecocentric duality invoked by the Earth Jurisprudence framework, see Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2011a, b), especially his chapter, ‘Towards Critical Environmental Law’ (pp. 18–38).

  2. Malm and Hornborg (2014, pp. 62–69 at 5) referring to Chakrabarty (2009, pp. 197–222).

  3. Here the authors cite Malm (2013, pp. 803–832); Malm and Esmailian (2012, pp. 474–492).

  4. See above, n. 1.

  5. This is a central concern for Malm and Hornborg (2014, p. 63). See also Bookchin, who argues that intra-species practices of domination were causally decisive for practices of ecological destruction: Bookchin (2005).

  6. For a useful discussion, see Grabham, Cooper, Krishnadas and Herman (2009).

  7. ‘The feminization of the Orient is one of the enduring themes in the scholarly study of colonialism. The colonial authorities represented the natives as passive, ignorant, irrational outwardly submissive but inwardly guileful, sexually unrestrained and emotionally demanding—not inherently female characteristics, perhaps, but defined as a trope in opposition to the self-mastery and openness that the hypermasculinized colonizing Westerners ascribed to themselves’: Lurhmann (1994, p. 333).

  8. See, for a richly implicative discussion, Dekha (2008, pp. 249–267).

  9. Nibert (2002). See also Ibrahim (2007, pp. 89–115). See also, for broader links to a central Anthropocene theme, Koch (2012).

  10. See Radhakrishnan (2003). Radhakrishnan argues that capitalism is a pathology producing privilege and exclusion ‘co-symptomatically’ (at vii).

  11. The ‘panopticon’ was Bentham’s design for the perfect prison in which the guard occupies a central observatory tower with visual access to all cells and prisoners without being visible.

  12. The body’s role is limited to its perceptual mechanisms, which gather information but have a radically attenuated role in its assessment: Lakoff (1987, p. 174).

  13. As Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos has pointed out, the etymology of the term ‘environment’ drives at that which revolves around a central subject: Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2011a, p. 22).

  14. This is one of the core insights of Earth Jurisprudence and its critique of law. With respect to environmental law, see Bosselmann (2010, pp. 2424–2448); Bosselmann (2011, pp. 45–63, especially pp. 46–51).

  15. See the arguments presented on this by Otto (2005, pp. 105–129); see, also, Otto (2006).

  16. See Johnson (1987); Lakoff and Johnson (1999). The latter argue that cognitive science reveals that ‘[t]he mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical’ (p. 3) and that ‘[reason] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies and bodily experience. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment’. Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p. 4).

  17. This is an important argument presented by Norrie (2001). See 118 US 394 (1886) and discussion at n. 18 below.

  18. Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Co 118 US 394 (1886). The court prefaced its judgment with the statement that it did not ‘wish to hear argument on the question’ concerning whether the corporation was a person for the purposes of the 14th Amendment, stating ‘we are all of the opinion [that it is]’. Finnis argues that not a ‘single sentence of justification’ has ever been added to what is effectively ‘the ukase of 1886’: Finnis (2000, p. 10). (‘Ukase’ is an archaic term for an edict, deriving from the Imperial Russian term for edicts issued by the Tzar).

  19. See, Kamphuis (2012, pp. 217–253); Jochnick (1999, p. 65); Joseph (1999, pp. 171, 173–174); and the reports of the Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights’ reports on the dumping of toxic waste: Commission on Human Rights (20 January 1998).

  20. Increasingly apparent under the pressures of recent austerity doctrine.

  21. Turner (2013, p. 32, emphasis added): ‘the very design of the law itself is fundamentally predisposed to environmental degradation and forms part of a dysfunctional global legal architecture which cannot achieve environmental sustainability’. Key to this, Turner argues, is the legal structure and historical evolution of business enterprises: ‘even during [their] formative years, certain features were being built into their design that would eventually have huge impacts on the environment in the modern era’ (2013, p. 38).

  22. This is clear in the arguments of, for example, Merchant (1983). It is also clear in the sociological account of human/animal hierarchies offered by Nibert (2002, 2013).

  23. This process is traced in detail by Marks (1987, pp. 1441–1483).

  24. Mayer (1990, p. 589), citing Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v Johnson 303 US 77, 90 (1938) (Black, J. Dissenting). Mayer cites Black as insisting that ‘[n]either the history nor the language of the fourteenth amendment justifies the belief that corporations are included within its protection’ (pp. 85–86)—Mayer, footnote 61.

  25. See, among other critiques of the way in which the transnational form itself facilitates the abuse of power by powerful elites, Dine (2012, pp. 44–69). See also Wright Mills (2000).

  26. For more on this important theme, see Nkrumah (1965) and Woods (2005).

  27. A question posed in a deliberately and increasingly provocative mode by Code: ‘Who do we think we are?’ See, Code (2012, pp. 92–99).

  28. A question that should engage the ‘open ecology’ of critical environmental law (see Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2011a, b) and the intra-active species entanglements of new materialisms and posthumanisms. See, for example, Haraway (2008).

References

  • Ahmed, Sarah. 1995. Deconstruction and law’s other: Towards a feminist theory of embodied legal rights. Social and Legal Studies 4: 55–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ajana, Btihaj. 2005. Disembodiment and cyberspace: A phenomenological approach, Electronic Journal of Sociology. http://www.sociology.org/content/2005/tier1/ajana.html. Accessed 22 June 2014

  • Anghie, Antony. 2005. Imperialism, sovereignty and the making of international law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Assiter, Alison. 2009. Kierkegaard, metaphysics and political theory: Unfinished selves. New York: Continuum International Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Balter, Michael. 2013. Archaeologists say the ‘Anthropocene’ is here - but it began long ago. Science 340: 261–262.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baxi, Upendra. 2001. The future of human rights. Oxford: OUP.

    Google Scholar 

  • Belcher, Alice. 2012. The ‘gendered company’ revisited. In Gender, sexualities and law, ed. J. Jones, A. Grear, R.A. Fenton, and K. Stevenson. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berry, Thomas. 1999. The great work: Our way into the future. New York: Bell Tower.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bookchin, Murray. 2005. The ecology of freedom: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy. Oakland: AK Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bosselmann, Klaus. 2010. Losing the forest for the trees: Environmental reductionism in law. Sustainability 2: 2424–48, http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/2/8/2424/pdf.

  • Bosselmann, Klaus. 2011. A vulnerable environment: Contextualizing law with sustainability. Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 2(1): 45–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The posthuman. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burdon, Peter. 2014. Earth jurisprudence: Private property and the environment. Abingdon: Routledge/Glasshouse.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2009. The climate of history: Four theses. Critical Inquiry 35: 197–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Code, Lorraine. 2012. Ecological responsibilities: Which trees? Where? Why? In Should trees have standing? 40 years on, ed. A. Grear. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Collard, Andree, and Joyce Contrucci. 1988. The rape of the wild: man’s violence against animals and the earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v Johnson 303 US 77, 90 (1938) (Black, J. Dissenting).

  • Crutzen, Paul J. 2002. Geology of mankind. Nature 23: 415.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crutzen, Paul J. 2006. The Anthropocene. In Earth system science in the anthropocene, ed. E. Ehlers, and T. Krafft. Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cullinan, Cormac. 2002. Wild law: A manifesto for earth justice. Totnes: Green Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grabham, Emily, Davina Cooper, Jane Krishnadas, and Didi Herman. 2009. Intersectionality and beyond: Law, power and the politics of location. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Damasio, Antonio. 1994. Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason and the brain. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dekha, Maneesah. 2008. Intersectionality and post-humanist visions of equality. Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender and Society 23: 249–267.

    Google Scholar 

  • Descartes, Rene. 1984. Principles of philosophy. In The philosophical writings of Descartes, part 1, section 8 at 195, ed. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, and D. Murdoch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dine, Janet. 2012. Jurisdictional arbitrage by multinational companies: A national law solution? Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 3(1): 44–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Douzinas, Costas. 1996. Justice and human rights in postmodernity. In Understanding human rights, ed. C. Gearty, and A. Tompkins. London: Mansell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Douzinas, Costas. 2000. The end of human rights. Oxford: Hart.

    Google Scholar 

  • Federman, Cary. 2003. Constructing kinds of persons in 1886: Corporate and criminal. Law and Critique 14: 167–189.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Finnis, John. 2000. The priority of persons. In Oxford essays in jurisprudence, vol. IV, ed. Jane Horder. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grear, Anna. 2010. Redirecting human rights: Facing the challenge of corporate legal humanity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Grear, Anna. 2013. Law’s entities: Complexity, plasticity and justice. Jurisprudence 4(1): 76–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grear, Anna. 2014. Towards ‘climate justice’? A critical reflection on legal subjectivity and climate injustice: Warning signals, patterned hierarchies, directions for future law and policy, Special Issue: Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 5: 103–133.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, Kate. 1996. Being here—What a woman can say about land law. In Feminist perspectives on the foundational subjects of law, ed. Anne Bottomley. London: Cavendish.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, Kate. 1998. Citizens and squatters: Under the surfaces of land law. In Land law: Themes and perspectives, ed. S. Bright, and J. Dewar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hacking, Ian. 1998. Mad travellers: Reflections on the reality of transient mental illness. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Halewood, Peter. 1996. Law’s bodies: Disembodiment and the structure of liberal property rights. Iowa Law Review 1: 1331–1393.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haraway, Donna. 2008. When species meet. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hornborg, Alf. 2001. The power of the machine: Global inequalities of economy, technology, and environment. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hornborg, Alf. 2011. Global ecology and unequal exchange: Fetishism in a zero-sum world. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Horwitz, M.J. 1981. Comment: The historical contingency of the role of history. Yale Law Journal 90: 1057–1059.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horwitz, Morton. 1985. Santa Clara revisited: The development of corporate theory. West Virginia Law Review 88: 173–224.

    Google Scholar 

  • Huggan, Graham, and Hellen Tiffin. 2007. Green postcolonialism in Interventions. International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 9(1): 1–11. Special Issue.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hunt, Alan, and Gary Wickham. 1994. Foucault and law: Towards a sociology of law as governance. London: Pluto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ibrahim, Darian M. 2007. A return to Descartes: Property, profit and the corporate ownership of animals. Law and Contemporary Problems 70: 89–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jochnick, Chris. 1999. Confronting the impunity of non-state actors: New fields for the promotion of human rights. Human Rights Quarterly 21: 56–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, Mark. 1987. Preface. In The body in the mind: The bodily basis of meaning, imagination and reason, ed. M. Johnson. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Joseph, Sarah. 1999. Taming the Leviathans: Multinational enterprises and human rights. Netherlands International Law Review 46(171): 173–174.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jung, Hwa Yol. 2002. Enlightenment and the question of the other: A postmodern audition. Human Studies 25: 297–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jung, Hwa Yol. 2007. Merleau-Ponty’s transversal geophilosophy and sinic aesthetics of nature. In Merleau Ponty and environmental philosophy: Dwelling on the landscapes of thought, ed. S.L. Cataldi, and W.S. Hamrick. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kamphuis, Charis. 2012. Foreign mining, law and the privatization of property: A case study from Peru. Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 3(2): 217–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kapur, Ratna. 2007. The citizen and the migrant: Postcolonial anxieties, law, and the politics of exclusion/inclusion. Theoretical Inquiries in Law 8(2): 537–570.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keller, Evelyn F. 1985. Reflections on gender and science. Yale: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koch, Max. 2012. Capitalism and climate change: Theoretical discussion, historical development and policy responses. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lahey, Kathleen, and Sarah W. Salter. 1985. Corporate law in legal theory and legal scholarship: From classicism to feminism. Osgood Hall Law Journal 23(4): 543–572.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, fire and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lurhmann, Tania M. 1994. The good Parsi: The post-colonial feminization of a colonial elite. Man 29: 333–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McLean, Janet. 2004. The transnational corporation in history: Lessons for today? Indiana Law Journal 79: 363–377.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malm, Andreas. 2013. Sea wall politics: Uneven and combined protection of the Nile Delta coastline in the face of sea level rise. Critical Sociology 39: 803–832.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Malm, Andreas, and Alf Hornborg. 2014. The geology of mankind? A critique of the anthropocene narrative. The Anthropocene Review 1(1): 62–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Malm, Andreas, and Shora Esmailian. 2012. Ways in and out of vulnerability to climate change: Abandoning the Mubarak Project in the northern Nile Delta Egypt. Antipode 45: 474–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marks, Gregory A. 1987. The personification of the business corporation in American law. The University of Chicago Law Review 54: 1441–1483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mayer, Carl J. 1990. Personalising the impersonal: Corporations and the bill of rights. Hastings Law Journal 41: 577–663.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merchant, Carolyn. 1983. The death of nature: Women, ecology and the scientific revolution. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merchant, Carolyn. 1998. The death of nature. In Environmental philosophy: From animal rights to ecology, ed. M.E. Zimmerman. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moran, Leslie. 1992. Corporate criminal capacity: Nostalgia for representation. Social and Legal Studies 1: 371–391.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Naffine, Ngaire. 2003. Who are law’s persons? From Cheshire cats to responsible subjects. Modern Law Review 66: 346–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Neocleous, Mark. 2003. Staging power: Marx, Hobbes and the personification of capital. Law and Critique 14: 147–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nibert, David A. 2002. Animal rights, human rights: Entanglements of oppression and liberation. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nibert, David A. 2013. Animal oppression and human violence: Domesecration, capitalism, and global conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nkrumah, Kenneth. 1965. Neo-colonialism: The last stage of imperialism. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  • Norrie, Alan. 2001. Crime, reason and history: A Critical introduction to criminal law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Otto, Dianne. 2005. Disconcerting ‘masculinities’: Reinventing the gendered subject(s) of international human rights law. In International law: Modern feminist approaches, ed. Doris Buss, and Ambreena Manji. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Otto, Dianne. 2006. Lost in translation: Rescripting the sexed subjects of international human rights law. In International law and its others, ed. Anne Orford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pateman, Carole. 1989. The disorder of women: democracy, feminism and political theory. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas (ed.). 2011a. Towards critical environmental law. In Law and ecology: New environmental foundations. Routledge/Glasshouse: Abingdon.

  • Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas (ed.). 2011b. Law and ecology: New environmental foundations. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plumwood, Val. 1993. Feminism and the mastery of nature. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Radhakrishnan, Rajagopalan. 2003. Theory in an uneven world. London: Blackwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Richardson, Janice. 2000. A refrain: Feminist metaphysics and law. In Feminist perspectives on law and theory, ed. Janice Richardson, and R. Sandland. London: Cavendish.

    Google Scholar 

  • Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Co 118 US 394 (1886).

  • Seidler, Victoria. 1998. Embodied knowledge and virtual space. In The virtual embodied, ed. J. Wood. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Simons, Penelope. 2013. International Law’s invisible hand and the future of corporate accountability for violations of human rights. Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 3(1): 5–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights’ reports on the dumping of toxic waste: Commission on Human Rights (20 January 1998).

  • Turner, Stephen. 2013. A global environmental right. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber, Andreas. 2012. Enlivenment: Towards a fundamental shift in the concepts of culture and politics. Berlin: Heinrich Boll Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westra, Laura. 2004. Environmental rights and human rights: The final enclosure movement. In Global governance and the quest for justice: Volume 4: Human Rights, ed. R. Brownsword. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westra, Laura, and Bill E. Lawson (eds.). 2001. Faces of environmental racism: Confronting issues of global justice, 2nd ed. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whitney, Shiloh Y. 2011. Dependency relations: Corporeal vulnerability and the norms of personhood, in Hobbes and Kittay. Hyptatia 26(3): 554–572.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wood, Ellen M. 1999. The origins of capitalism. New York: The Monthly Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Woods, Ellen.M. 2005. Empire of capital. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright Mills, Charles. 2000. The power elite. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna Grear.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Grear, A. Deconstructing Anthropos: A Critical Legal Reflection on ‘Anthropocentric’ Law and Anthropocene ‘Humanity’. Law Critique 26, 225–249 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10978-015-9161-0

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10978-015-9161-0

Keywords

  • Anthropocene
  • Anthropocentrism
  • Anthropos
  • Critical legal theory
  • Human hierarchies of being
  • Legal personhood
  • Patterns of injustice
  • Transnational corporate power