Personification: ACLA 2017

Bringing together scholars of animal studies, object-oriented ontology, affect theory and more, the 2015 volume The Nonhuman Turn (Richard Grusin, ed.) labels a definite trend in 21st-century critical theory, one that seeks to resituate the human as one mode of life among many rather than as the scale by which all other beings are measured. While accepting and celebrating this decentering of the human, this panel resists the assumption that the problem of what constitutes humanness is somehow solved or finished. What might be gained, instead, by attempting to redefine the parameters of the human or the person (two importantly non-identical categories) in comparative terms? Can a comparative humanism help us reframe the category of the human as constantly constructed, improvised, and performed rather than as ontologically given?

This panel aims to address the question of how biological, mechanical, or textual entities come to be regarded as persons or acquire personlike traits. Approaches from cognitive literary studies, history/philosophy of science, animal studies and disability studies are especially welcome. Potential topics might include (but are not limited to):

  •  the personification of textual objects (e.g. characters, authors, books)
  • literary and rhetorical strategies for restoring personhood to dehumanized individuals/groups
  • literary forms and genres especially invested in the production of humanness
  • role of personification/anthropomorphism in children’s literature/child development
  • cognitive mechanisms of personification/anthropomorphism
  • effects of anthropomorphism on the human-machine relationship
  • implications for the humanities of treating humanness as a species identity

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