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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 42, Issue 2, April 2016

Dominating Speech

David Livingstone Smith
Pages 416-443

Paradoxes of Dehumanization

In previous writings, I proposed that we dehumanize others by attributing the essence of a less-than-human creature to them, in order to disable inhibitions against harming them. However, this account is inconsistent with the fact that dehumanizers implicitly, and often explicitly, acknowledge the human status of their victims. I propose that when we dehumanize others, we regard them as simultaneously human and subhuman. Drawing on the work of Ernst Jentsch (psychology), Mary Douglas (anthropology), and Noël Carroll (philosophy), I argue that the notion of dehumanized people as metaphysically transgressive provides important insights into the distinctive phenomenology of dehumanization.