CfP: Persons/Things Workshop, University of Turku, Finland 12–13 May 2016

by | 13 Feb 2016

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In recent decades many of the foundational classificatory structures of law have been challenged by entities that are familiar to law but who appear in new functions. While robots are revolutionising trade and warfare, animals, embryos and corporations are knocking the doors of personhood with their multifarious rights reminiscent to those of natural persons. At the other end of the spectrum, many marginal people are transformed into mere objects. When the European Union makes an administrative decision to relocate 120,000 refugees or when the United States consider all military-aged males as legitimate targets in drone warfare, little of humanity remains. Despite of these drastic changes, many of the conceptual tools used to analyse these new phenomena are vestiges of past centuries, such as the Roman law structure between persona and res—persons and things.

It is in this changed world the Persons/Things workshop seeks to explore the present and the past of persona/res distinction. Are challenges of the present world unheard of are they simple re-enactments of the past debates held over slaves and women? Or could there be something genuinely new in the seeming porosity of the border between things and persons? Whilst there are countless developments worthy of note, some of the key questions include:

  • How does one become Person/Thing in the first place?
  • How does the change of status take place?
  • Are there categories where change is more likely and are there categories unable to attain new status?
  • What are the main indicators of a change?
  • Who are the actors promoting change?
  • Does change of status have permanence or are there categories, historical or present, that have constantly fluctuated between the two poles?
The Persons/Things workshop calls for papers exploring both concrete and theoretical aspects of changing (legal) personhood. The papers could, for example:
  • examine how national or international legal doctrines act as gatekeepers to personhood
  • account if emergence of rights or their disappearance signals an equal change in Person/Thing status
  • map the ways in which  courts make Persons/Things

The Persons/Things workshop will feature keynote sessions delivered by:

Joshua Barkan (Associate Professor of Geography, University of Georgia) and
Yoriko Otomo (Lecturer in Law, SOAS).

The workshop will take place on 12 and 13 May 2016 in Turku, Finland.

Building on the success of our former initiative, Imagining post-neoliberal regulatory subjectivities workshop held in 2014, the Persons/Things workshop promotes interdisciplinary approaches and welcomes early career scholars from law, history, sociology, anthropology, gender studies, geography and related fields of study.  Call is open to everyone but a preference will be given to current doctoral candidates and those who have recently graduated.

Paper proposals of approximately 500 words are due by Tuesday, March 1 at 10:00 am CET. Please use webform for submitting your application. Notifications will be sent by mid-March and those presenting their papers are expected to send their work to the workshop organizers for circulation by Friday, May 6th. PhD candidates and junior faculty are particularly encouraged to apply.

For additional information, please contact either Toni Selkälä ( or Mikko Rajavuori (


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