FALL 2023


What defines and delimits the parameters of personhood?  How has the shifting legal status of personhood been instrumentalized to grant, as well as to deny, rights and recognition to human and non-human subjects past and present? Deriving from the Latin root persona, meaning “mask, character, role,” the fictive dimension of personhood is integral to the longue durée of its cultural lives and historical legacies. Colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade constructed legal fictions about enslaved peoples of African descent and “indios” as non- (or not full) persons, which continue to shape the world today. This semester’s theme invites inquiries into the changing contours and erasures of personhood past, present, and future from across the disciplines, including but not limited to:  studies of anti-Black negations of personhood (and of the juridical fictions and systems of representation that subtend them); environmental personhood (such as the successful advocacy in 2017 by Māori in New Zealand to extend personhood to the Whanganui River as part of ongoing struggles for indigenous recognition, and Bangladesh’s recent granting of personhood to the country’s rivers to mitigate industrial pollution); the contested personhood of non-human animals (such as the Bronx Zoo’s “Happy” the elephant, recently denied legal personhood); the effects of corporate personhood in the wake of Citizens United; the pitting of fetal personhood against pregnant people’s reproductive rights; and the futures of personhood in light of advances in artificial intelligence. How have scholars, artists, writers, and activists engaged with the changing scope of human and non-human personhood?



All lectures begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted.  Locations vary by date.


"Commonwealth Now!": Envisioning Indigenous Chamorro Self-Determination in a Multicultural Guam

KRISTIN OBERIANO • Wesleyan University • Daniel Family Commons


Barzakh as a Paradigm for Life

A. GEORGE BAJALIA • Wesleyan University • Russell House


The Unconscious Otherwise

STEFANIA PANDOLFO • University of California, Berkeley • Daniel Family Commons


"A Vagrant and Fugitive Animal": Race, Ecology, and the Origins of Louisiana Mineral Law 

ROBIN McDOWELL • Washington University, St. Louis • Daniel Family Commons


Animals as Property, Quasi-Property, or Quasi-Person

ANGELA FERNANDEZ • University of Toronto • Daniel Family Commons


Making the Kazakh Qyl-Qobyz: Musical Instrument as Sentient Being

SAIDA DAUKEYEVA • Wesleyan University • Daniel Family Commons


Thinking Against Empire: Botany and the Environmental Humanities

BANU SUBRAMANIAM • University of Massachusetts, Amherst • Daniel Family Commons


Transgenic: Re/Making The American Chestnut Tree

ELAINE GAN •  Wesleyan University • Daniel Family Commons


Races of Property: Property Relationships and Divergent Racial Formation

BETHANY BERGER • University of Connecticut • Daniel Family Commons


What is Personhood in Law? Animals, AI, and Corporations

VISA KURKI • University of Helsinki • Daniel Family Commons


Spring 2024: Get Real 

What is at stake in appeals to the exigency of the Real?  Imperatives such as “Get real!” urge us to recognize the emergencies of the present moment, as the Real asserts itself in ways impossible to ignore:  war, climate crisis, global pandemics, social inequality, mass migration, deportations, and political volatility, to name a few.  In Black queer ballroom culture, “Realness” is generally understood to be something other than mere verisimilitude, a kind of hyper-Real superlative, or glimmer of possibility.  Laying claim to the Real has a long history, and the paradigms through which such claims are made are multiple, mobilizing the signifying power of words and images to quite disparate political ends.  If such claims now seem ubiquitous and ever more urgent, it is also the case that the bedrock of the Real is ever more contested and difficult to discern in a “post-Truth” world, amid the haze of mis- and disinformation and fog of “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  Screens may distort, distance, or diminish our sense of the Real, leaving us vaguely detached and perennially wondering: “For real?”  What recourse to the Real remains when its rhetoric becomes weaponized?  When wars of aggression are rebranded “special military operations”? When the metaphorical claim of social justice movements that the “world is on fire” becomes realized as the planet burns around us?  Should a shared sense of the Real remain a desideratum? Or are there advantages to embracing the status of the Real as an asymptotic, ever-receding object of desire?  Or putting data and facts, and the materiality of archives, in service to the speculative or utopic? This semester’s theme welcomes scholarship on the imperatives of the Real and claims to realness past, present, and yet to come, from across the disciplines.