Dehumanization: Perceiving the Body as (In)Human

  • Sophie Oliver
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 24)


Dehumanization – the designation of the unlivable, the unintelligible, the ungrievable inhuman – is that almost unimaginable process by which human beings are rendered so radically other that their lives count for nothing. In this chapter, the author considers how victims, perpetrators and bystanders of atrocity come to perceive the loss of humanity and, in particular, the extent to which this (mis)perception is linked both physically and discursively to the figure of the human body. Paying attention to the concrete corporeality of dehumanization as it is described in testimonial texts, the author suggests that to think of “human dignity” as an abstract and disembodied quality becomes problematic in its failure to recognize the embodied, lived experience of suffering human beings. By focusing on testimonial accounts of dehumanizing atrocity, this chapter points to the significance of our role as receivers of testimony, also potentially guilty of dehumanizing perception, and emphasizes the possibility within the testimonial encounter both to repeat and to resist the logic of dehumanization and the unmaking, self-destroying power of bodily pain.


Human Dignity Moral Disengagement Concentration Camp Moral Community Double Negation 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of KonstanzKonstanzGermany

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