Course code:



M - Intermediate

Class size limit:


Meets the following requirements:

  • HS - Human Studies

Lab fee:


Typically offered:

Upon occasion

This course examines the concept of the human through an exploration of the concept of possession. Contemporary understandings of the human have been influenced by the political frameworks of European modernity and its philosophical roots, all the way back to Aristotle’s claim that what differentiates the human from other animals is the capacity for speech, which is also what, he argued, makes the human a “political animal. “ Within this history, categories of difference internal and external to European political community, including women, colonized, slaves, homosexuals, Jews, and the insane, have been considered as less than fully human. In contrast, the fully human has been historically defined in terms of possession of one’s self through the possession of reason, property, territory, autonomy and the capacity for self-representation through language.

Over the course of the term, we will examine how those who have been defined as less than fully human challenge oppositions through which the idea of the self-possessed, autonomous human has been defined—oppositions of mind and body, reason and madness, thought and emotion, masculine and feminine, object and subject, religious and secular, and thus also human and animal. Doing so will allow us to rethink concepts such as “rights,” “consent,” “self-representation,” “value,” “autonomy,” “transparency,” “equality,” “freedom,” and “community.” What might it mean to rethink political claims made in the name of “humanity” in terms of notions of dispossession and being possessed (by language, madness, desire, divine forces or other forms of difference)? What might it mean to think about relating to others and the self through difference rather than sameness? What might it mean for our understandings of the relation between art and politics if we think about politics as based on translation rather than on self-representation and inclusion? Drawing on psychoanalysis, anthropology, postcolonial studies, political economy, literature, religion and feminist theory, this course considers states such as hysteria, melancholia, speaking in tongues, and ecstasy, as well as states of slavery, colonialism, and poverty to consider the political, social and environmental implications of how we define the human. Students will be evaluated based on attendance, in-class participation, weekly reading responses, and two short analytical essays. This is an intermediate level course. Prior work in at least one human studies or related arts course is strongly recommended.

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