In Jessica Gienow-Hecht, Sönke Kunkel & Sebastian Jobs (eds.), Visions of Humanity. New York: Berghahn Books (forthcoming)

Suzy Killmister
Monash University
This chapter interrogates the human in human rights. It first takes issue with the common assumption that to be human just is to be a member of the species homo sapiens, and that this suffices for possession of human rights. Such an assumption is problematic because it presupposes a unique ‘essence’ possessed by all and only human beings, which in turn functions to exclude certain individuals from the realm of the human, and presents a culturally-specific vision of humanity as if it were universal. As an alternative, this chapter develops a conception of the human as a social construct. Analogous to the sex/gender distinction common to feminist theory, it posits a homo sapiens/human distinction, whereby the human refers to the network of social norms, political status, privileges and burdens that are conferred on people because they are (taken to be) members of the species homo sapiens.
Keywords human rights  social construction  social kinds
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