PERUTTU - James Jardin: Objectification, Inferiorization, Epidermalization: Phenomenological Insights into Dehumanization

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Objectification, Inferiorization, Epidermalization: Phenomenological Insights into Dehumanization


James Jardine (University of Jyväskylä)


Dehumanization is not a central concept in phenomenological philosophy. The aim of this talk is to nevertheless demonstrate that both classical and existential phenomenologists have developed concepts that are of crucial pertinence and value to contemporary dehumanization research. The paper begins with some preliminary reflections on the relationship between dehumanization, objectification and subjectivity, arguing that in light of phenomenological analyses, dehumanization must not be identified with objectification tout court, nor simply with actions that compromise the autonomy or well-being of human beings. A phenomenological approach to dehumanization research is proposed, and distinguished from conceptualizations of dehumanization that dominate contemporary philosophical discussions of this issue. The remainder of the paper considers Frantz Fanon’s highly influential work on colonial racism, and aims to highlight the applicability of the phenomenological model to concrete instances of dehumanization. It is argued that Fanon’s investigations of racial inferiorization draw a crucial distinction between extreme forms of dehumanization and a more general, everyday form, that is pervasive within racist societies and makes possible the former. Moreover, Fanon’s work is of value in demonstrating the necessity of an intersubjective analysis of dehumanization, one that does not only take into account the dehumanizer’s attitudes and acts, but also investigates the dehumanized person’s experiences of their humanity being violated. Finally, his investigations of dehumanization highlight the role played therein by certain emotions, particularly as they intertwine with and transform the dehumanizer’s perceptual experience of the dehumanized person’s body. Fanon introduces the technical term ‘epidermalization’ to capture this sedimentation of dehumanizing meanings within (inter)corporeal experience, and it his analysis of epidermalization that constitutes his greatest contribution to dehumanization research.

Further information

Jani Hakkarainen, jani.hakkarainen@tuni.fi