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Countering Dehumanization in Genocide: Paulo Freire and Thomas Norton-Smith on Humans and Animals

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In genocide the most common form of dehumanization is animalization—comparing humans to and treating them like animals. Despite the prevalence of animalization, most scholars on genocide omit animals from definitional discussions of genocide and from discussions on how to prevent genocide, focusing on humanist solutions like human rights. I argue that if we are to halt genocidal dehumanization, we must challenge the human/animal dualism so that we can break out of circular humanist solutions in order to develop a nonhumanist ethics and politics. In this paper I will focus on taking a closer look at some of the pitfalls of the humanist response to dehumanization and some of the upshots of a nonhumanist approach. I will engage with Paulo Freire and Native American scholar Thomas Norton-Smith as representatives of these two views, applying their thoughts on animals, personhood, and humanity to the problem of dehumanization in genocide.


Lauren Eichler    
University of Oregon
United States


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