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From an ethical standpoint, human bodies are fundamentally different from objects that can be owned, acquired, and exchanged. Yet history furnishes us with countless examples of laws, administrative rules, and social conventions that treat the human body as a form of property. The institution of slavery is a particularly egregious example. But there are other examples of treating the body as property that seem more ambiguous, or even benign: the employment contract in which bodily services are offered in exchange for payment; the feminist slogan “my body, my choice”; or even the every-day transfer of bodily properties into creative projects that then become part of the things people own — chairs, tables, houses, music, art, and intellectual property. If it is not itself a form of property, how can we explain the use of the human body to acquire possessions, create wealth, and mediate the exchange of other kinds of property? These and other tensions between the concept of property and that of humanity will be the focus of this course. How is property defined, and how far should law go to erode or reinforce distinctions between property and humanity? Course readings focus on Locke, Hegel, Marx, and critical perspectives from feminist theory, critical theory, and critical legal studies (Cheryl Harris, Alexander Kluge, Oskar Negt, Carole Pateman, Rosalind Petchesky, and Dorothy Roberts, among others).
Format: tutorial; Hybrid: Tutorial pairs with both students on campus will meet in person for the majority of our sessions (some weeks may be online). Pairs with one or both students learning remotely will meet exclusively online.
Grading: no pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
five 5- to 7-page essays, five 2- to 3-page critiques, and a revised and extended 10- to 12-page final essay
prior coursework in political theory, cultural theory, philosophy, or permission of instructor
Political Science majors (priority given to those concentrating in Political Theory ); Justice & Law Studies concentrators (priority given to those with extensive JLST coursework).
Difference, Power, and Equity
The course fulfills the Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement by examining how, in the context of legally-sanctioned power relations, bodily differences are constructed, monetized, and used to generate wealth. Race, class, and gender inequalities are central to the analysis.
JLST Interdepartmental Electives
PSCI Political Theory Courses