This course will examine what it means to be a person in the eyes of the law. We will examine the rhetorical framing that infuses our conception of living subjects, legal persons, non-persons and things. The line between human and subhuman, or person and thing, is given new urgency in an era when the limits of incarceration, torture, human trafficking, medical experimentation, and the right to due process often turn on newly minted meanings of words like "enemy combatant," "IQ," "underclass," "market choice," "race," "terror" or "illegal immigration." If slavery is "unthinkable" to most people today, why? How do we keep bringing the unthinkable back into being? What connection do historical taxonomies have to the contemporary perpetuation of genocide, torture, disappearance, starvation? What disconnections? What about us is truly or essentially "inalienable"?
Whom we consider a person, whom we label less than fully endowed, are questions that inform some of the most urgent legal and political questions of our time. We will look at legal opinions, historical documents, as well as texts in philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, literary criticism, and popular culture.