International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-R525
Organized session / standard talks
Dehumanization (2): New approaches to understanding the politics of human nature

Maria Kronfeldner (Central European University, Hungary); Robert A. Wilson (University of Alberta, Canada)

This is the second part of a double session (see Dehumanization: New approaches to understanding the politics of human nature, Part I). Debates about human nature in the biological and social sciences as well as in philosophy of science typically consist of a positive proposal of some kind and critical responses to that proposal. Although political considerations often enter into both sides of such debates, there is a sense in which such considerations are secondary. In this double session, we adopt a different approach, drawing on and contributing to the emerging field of dehumanization studies. This approach places the less-than-fully human in the spotlight. On the basis of recent empirical findings on dehumanization, we will discuss how dehumanization, essentialism, eugenics and disability hang together. In this part of the double session, we will apply the results of the first part to specific political concerns, mainly (iv) ability expectation and ableism (Gregor Wolbring), and (v) eugenics and disability (Rob Wilson). The two talks in this second part are followed by (vi) a round table discussion “Dehumanization: A Dialog”. As a whole, the session aims to open up some novel possibilities for historians and philosophers of science in analyzing essentialist thinking by taking up a provocative theme, dehumanization, drawing on recent work from the psychological and social sciences.

Ability expectations, ability privilege, ability power and ableism: A tool for and against de-humanization

Gregor Wolbring (University of Calgary, Canada)

The disabled people rights movements in the United States and Britain coined the term ableism as a cultural concept during the 1960s and 1970s to question and highlight (a) the expectations towards species-typical body abilities (we expect certain abilities from different species; humans are supposed to walk but not to fly, birds are supposed to fly) and (b) the disablement and de-humanization that came with it, the prejudice and negative treatment people experience whose body-linked abilities are seen as sub species-typical and therefore labeled as ‘impaired’, as deficient. However, the cultural reality of ability expectations (want stage) and ableism (need stage) go far beyond how it is used within disability studies and by disabled activists. Ability expectations are one aspect of culture used by social entities to relate to each other for example, in the case of individuals they lead to an ability-based and ability-justified understanding of oneself, one’s body and one’s relationship with others of one’s species, other species and one’s environment. Ableism does not have to be negative: it simply indicates that one has certain ability expectations one lives out. Yet, ability expectations can and have been used in a negative way to exhibit ability inequity and ability inequality, ability power and ability privilege, not only against disabled people, but also to support negative –isms such as racism and sexism and various other forms of de-humanization.

Subhumanizing the defective: Dehumanization, disability, and eugenics

Robert A. Wilson (University of Alberta, Canada)

Work on the history of eugenics has recently shifted from a focus on what might be thought of as the extreme forms of eugenics associated with Nazi Germany and the American eugenics movement to consider eugenic ideas and practices in less familiar cultural contexts and during the post-WWI era. As a part of that shift, in this presentation I will focus on subhumanizing tendencies in the characterization of people with disabilities in science, medicine, and philosophy over the past 100 years. While such tendencies are quite explicit in the first half of the 20th-century, they survive more implicitly in the second-half of that century, and remain with us in contemporary bioethics and applied ethics. Understanding this subhumanization involves thinking about ideas of human variation, about the expectations of family and kinship relations, and about the role of academics in broader social initiatives. It will also take us into some of the literature on psychological essentialism, and to consider the subhumanization of other putative sorts of people, such as races, ethnicities, and gender.

Dehumanization: A dialog

Maria Kronfeldner (Central European University, Hungary); Ron Amundson (University of Hawaii at Hilo, United States); David Livingstone Smith (University of New England, United States); Robert A. Wilson (University of Alberta, Canada); Gregor Wolbring (University of Calgary, Canada)

In a dialog with all the presenters of the double session on dehumanization involved, we will weave together the different threads of the talks.