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Course Description: 

This course concerns post-WW2 approaches to dehumanization. Dehumanization happens when people are depicted, regarded, or treated as not human or less human. Take the civilians that are tortured, raped, or killed in the shameful line-up of wars and violent conflicts that we have stockpiled over historical time, with no end in sight. Take that homeless people, sick people, refugees, or those deemed ‘racially inferior’ are often treated in a far from respectful manner, likened to bacteria, vermin, or waste, and treated alike. Take the age-old view that women are only a ‘second’ sex with all the consequences this view has had for the oppression and the violence women have had to face. Take abusive work relations as part of which people are treated as exploitable machines. These are all paradigmatic examples of dehumanization occurring as part of our contemporary social world. Philosophers and other scholars have addressed dehumanization since Greek Antiquity (even though often without using the word which has a rather recent prevalence). This course focuses on how understanding dehumanization has developed in philosophy and other fields (e.g. social psychology or genocide studies) since the early reactions to the Holocaust and other NS-atrocities.

In addition to studying the by-now classic contributions of authors from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (e.g. Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, Herbert Kelman), we will discuss contemporary issues related to the phenomenon, taking historical, philosophical and empirical issues into account, for instance: dehumanization before the Columbian exchange, how it figures in accounting for the Holocaust and other genocidal activities, how it relates to misogyny, racism, social exclusion, outgroup bias, mind attribution, or one’s imagination of one’s own future self.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will understand the core issues related to the topic of the course. They will practice their reading, analytic and discussion skills. In particular, students will learn to connect empirical and philosophical concerns.


Students are required to read the mandatory material for each class and to participate in oral discussions. Students might have to prepare short presentations of the core readings, depending on number of students participating. See for more details on general rules of participation in the Handout attached to the syllabus.

Students are encouraged to follow their own interest, with respect to disciplinary background or material covered (e.g. from, anthropology, gender studies, history, literary studies, nationalism studies, philosophy, political sciences, public policy, religious studies, sociology, urban studies, visual studies, etc.)

Grading will be based on the written final paper (see more information on grading in the syllabus). Exceptional participation during the course can lead to an upgrade (e.g. from A- for the paper to an A for the overall course).


A secure background in philosophical reasoning is required. Yet, no preliminary knowledge about the topic of the course is necessary for successful participation.

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