15-17 May 2014: Legal Bodies: Corpus / Persona / Communitas

LUCAS (the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society) will host a three-day conference on the various ways in which literary and artistic texts have represented, interrogated or challenged juridical notions of ‘personhood’. The conference will take place from 15 until 17 May 2014.


The conference brings together established and young scholars to discuss how literature, the arts and law have reflected on issues of personhood. The received enlightenment notion of ‘personhood’ – a central term in both the domains of the law and in the humanities – has recently been challenged by developments in the medical sciences, in biotechnology, and in the context of global-political developments. The implications of these shifts have been at the heart of a growing body of work by scholars in the humanities, the social sciences, philosophy and the law. This conference seeks to contribute to these debates by discussing how literature, art and culture might form domains in which the limitations of legal, political or medical conceptualizations of personhood can be thought through, and in which alternative understandings of personhood are offered.

Personhood on different levels

The guiding assumption behind our conference is that ‘personhood’ is not a (biologically) given, stable property of human beings (which precedes their interaction with the law), but that ‘personhood’ is assigned to selected (and historically varying) ‘bodies’ by discursive regimes, such as those of law, medicine, politics, religion, and education. During the conference we will study how literature, art and culture form domains in which the implications and scope of legal, political or medical conceptualizations of personhood can be dramatized and thought through, and in which alternative understandings of personhood can be proposed and disseminated.

The symposium broaches the question of personhood on three different levels: those of the body, the individual and the community. Questions to be addressed include (but are not limited to), firstly:

  • From which discourses did notions of bodily integrity historically emerge? Which social, political and medical developments are currently challenging these notions? How do artistic, cultural and socio-political phenomena (such as bio-art, body horror, the right-to-die movement, etc.) invite us to rethink our notion of the human body?

  • Second, what literary and rhetorical figures made it possible to think of legal personhood in antiquity, the middle ages and the modern era? What is the legal status of ‘not-quite persons,’ such as children, illegal immigrants, the mentally disabled, the unborn and the undead? What could ‘animal personhood’ entail?

  • Finally: how do collective bodies acquire personhood? How did art and literature represent legal entities such as the medieval city, the seventeenth century trade company or the nineteenth century corporation? Or what is the legally defined status of sects, networks, conspiracies, and resistance movements?

Programme Thursday 15 May

Programme (pdf)

Venue: Scheltema Complex, Marksteeg 1, Leiden

  • 09:00: Registration

  • 09:30–09:45: Welcome, Opening

  • 09:45-11.00: Keynote 1: Jeanne Gaakeer (Faculty of Law, Erasmus University):
    “Sua Cuique Persona? Some Reflections on the Fiction of Legal Personhood.”

  • 11:00-12:30: Parallel Sessions 1 – 3

1) Defining the Person

- Jonathan Price (Leiden University / University of Oxford), “Man is the Measure of All Things – now including the concept of ‘person’”
- Julie Miller (Harvard University), “The Person in Common Law”
- Tzung-Mou Wu (Acadmia Sinica, Taiwan), “Legal Personhood from the 18th to mid-20th Century: From Neologism to Concept”

2) Performing Bodies in the Public Sphere

- Gerlov van Engelenhoven (Leiden University), “Sacrificial Dimensions of the Suffering Body: the RAF leaders interpreted as Martyrs”
- Zeina Jallad (Columbia University), “The Power of the Body: Analyzing the Corporeal Logic of Law and Social Change in the Arab Spring”
- Patricia Schor (Utrecht University) and Egbert Alejandro Martina (Writer), “The Alien Body in Contemporary Netherlands: Racialized Necropolitical Subjects and Bodily Protest”

3) Corporative Bodies

- Richard Hardack (UC Berkeley), “Corporations have no Souls”
- Markus Klank (Max Planck Insitute, Halle), “How the New Religions Challenge the Concept of ‘Corporate Bodies under Public Law’ in Germany”
- Tazuko van Berkel (Leiden University), “Consumption from Political Animal to Homo Economicus”
- Martin Kayman (Cardiff University), “Corpus Juris, the ‘Glory of the English Law’ and the beheading of Margaret Thatcher.”

  • 12:30-13:30: Lunch

  • 13:30-14:00: Rick van Veldhuizen, “Quen Lex Subjungat” (musical performance)

  • 14:00–14:30: Yasco Horsman (Film and Literary Studies, Leiden University), “Persona.”

  • 14:30-14:50: Kees Lemmens, “Contact improvisation”

  • 15:00-16:30: Parallel Sessions 4-6

4) Contemporary Art, the Body, Personhood 

- Sabin Bors (Curator), “Enacting the Body: An Investigation on the Body Multiple in Art and Politics”
- Magdalena Lange (Jagiellonian University, Krakow), “Restoring Bodily Integrity. Modern Biology Perceived by Art”
- Agnieszka Wolodzko (Leiden University), “Philo-Zoe through Art: or How Persons Become Non-Human”

5) Bodily Limits, Personhood and Violence

- Odile Bodde (Leiden University), “Torture, persona and performance in Unthinkable” 
- Shiamin Kwa (Bryn Maws College), “Moving Words: Autolocution and a Body of Language in Ma Jian Beijing Coma”
- Inge ‘t Hart (Leiden University), “Framing Bodies, Fragmenting Personhood. Visual Characterization and the Forensic Gaze in Contemporary Crime TV Series”

6) Sovereignty, Immunity, Desire

- Looi van Kessel (Leiden University), “Savage Embraces: Bodily Violence and Queer Sovereingty in the Writings of James Purdy”
- Chantal Nadeau & Samantha Frost (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), “Queer Courage and a Post-Immunity Politics”
- Tessa de Zeeuw (Utrecht University), “Killing Peter Greenaway’s Thief: Towards a Conception of Justice as Desire”

  • 16:30-17:00: Tea

  • 17:00–18:15: Keynote 2: Daniel Heller-Roazen (Comparative Literature, Princeton University), “Of Missing Persons.”

  • 18:15–18:35: Joost Heijthuisen

  • 18:35– … Dinner and Poetry (by Feest der Poëzie)

Evening programme (19.30)/ Venue: Scheltema, Marktsteeg 1 te Leiden
The main act of the evening will be the colorful DJ collective Cairo Liberation Front from Tilburg, and the band Yokocola from Rotterdam and Crusenunie from Leiden.

Programme Friday 16 May

Venue: Morning: various locations; afternoon: Lipsius building, room 0.19, Cleveringaplaats 1, Leiden

  •  09:00-11:00: Parallel Sessions 7-10

7) Kinship, Family, Nation

- Mariano Croce (University of Antwerp /  Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic), “The Personhood of Family”
- Joseph David (University of Oxford), “Selfness and Kinship in Medieval Law and Codes”
- Ted Laros (Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg), “’Immature, Uneducated or Uncivilized Persons:’ Legal Conceptualizations of ‘weak’ (and ‘strong’) readers in 19th to 21st Century South Africa”
- Jet Tighelaar en Marjolein van den Brink, (Utrecht University), “The Gendered Person in Law, with Special Reference to Dutch Law & Human Rights”

8) Persons, But Not Quite…

- Cui Chen (Leiden University), “The Legal Status of Savages in Lord of the Flies
- Pamela Ivinsky (Independent Scholar, Croton-on-Hudson, USA), “What is Proper(ty) to an Artist: The Impressionist Painter Mary Cassatt and the Legal, Societal and Aesthetic Implications of the Female Signature”
- Wouter Schrover (VU University, Amsterdam), “Representing the Unborn and Undead in Harry Mulisch The Discovery of Heaven
- Thao Nguyen (Leiden University), “Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights”
- Theresia Schouten (Leiden University),“The Death of Death: Life Beyond Biology”

9) Imprisonment and loss

- Loes van der Voort (Utrecht University), “The Silent Voices of Guantanamo”
- Florence Cheval (Louvain-La-Neuve University), “Traces of What?”
- Tine Nederveen (Leiden University), “Rethinking Personhood: Do Political Prisoners have Rights?”
- Edward Bacal (University of Toronto), “Violence, Disappearance and the Political Production of Bodies in the Work of Doris Salcedo, Teresa Margolles and Alfredo Jaar”

10) Make-able Bodies

- Lisette ten Haaf (VU University, Amsterdam), “Legal Personhood and Non-Existing Entities”
- Margherita de Giorgi (University of Bologna / Parix XIII), “Corporal Representations and Early Somatic Studies”
- Emma Patchett (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster), “The Diasporic Group Rights and the Aesthetics of Resistance”
- Valeria Venditti (Università di Roma “/ Antwerpen University), Mama’s Baby: Women Inclination under the Weight of Naturalness”

  • 11:00–11:30: Coffee

  • 11:30–13:00: Parallel Sessions 11-14

11) Moments of (in-)decision

- Claudia Bouteligier (Leiden University), “Subjectivity in Decision-Making”
- Pauline Malek, “Rethinking the Principle of Neutrality and International Humanitarian Law”
- Bram Ieven (Leiden University), “A Sovereign Body in Search for its People: The Democratic Deficit of Europe vis-a-vis the Transatlanttic Trade and Investment Partnership” 

12) Personhood and uniform(-ity)

- Helena Beks, “The Big Black Dress. A Cover Story”
- Tammy Lynn Castelein, “Personhood as Uniformity”
- Petr Agha (Centre for Law and Public Affairs), “Uniform Self-Forming”

13) Powers of Representation: Personhood, the Collective and Theatricality

- Stephanie Glickman (Northwestern University), “Conquered Places and Captured Faces in the Art of Dutch Global Trade, c. 1600-1670”
- Marrigje Paijmans (University of Amsterdam), “A dramatization of Human Nature. Notions of Bodily Integrity in Joost van den Vondel’s Tragedy Hercules in Trachin (1668)”
- Enrico Zucchi (University of Padua), “From Crowd to Political Entity: How the Italian Eighteenth Century Tragedy Gave Body to People’s Community”

14) Political Animals

- Nicolas Lema (University of Oxford), “The Implicit Animal of Aristotle’s Aesthetics”
- Sophie van den Elzen (Utrecht University), “Translating the Animal: Personification as an Activist Tool”
- Anna Stolyarova (Artist), “Animal power Culture: Art and Activism”
- Jan de Putter (Leiden University), “Adding Insult to Injury: Violence and Identity in the Medieval Dutch Beast Epic of Reynaert the Fox”

  • 13:00–14:00: Lunch

  • 14:00–14:30: Nanne Timmer (Latin American Studies, Leiden University),  “Corpus”

  • 14:30–15:45: Keynote 3: Greta Olson (English, Giessen University), “Like a Dog’: Rituals of Animal Degradation in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Abu Ghraib Prison."

  • 15:45–16:15: Tea

  • 16:15–17:45: Keynote 4: Malick W. Ghachem (History, MIT), “The Forever Company: How to Narrate the Story of an Eighteenth-Century Legal Person (The Case of the Compagnie des Indes)"

  • 17:45-18:15: John Robb (The Membranes), “The Perils of Doing What You Want: Music at Street Level.”

Evening programme (19.30) / Venue: Multipleks, Schuttersveld 1 in Leiden (opposite the train station)

This evening the party will go on with the British post punkband The Membranes, featuring Steve Hanley of the legendary British band The Fall on base guitar, and the bands Repetitor (Serbia) and Las Kellies (Argentina)!

Programme Saturday 17 May

Venue: Regentenkamer, Oude Vest 159a, Leiden; 12:30 – 14:00: Venue: OPEN Makers, Aalmarkt 15b)

  • 10:00–10:45: Frans-Willem Korsten (Film and Literary Studies, Leiden University) „Communitas“

  • 10.45–12.00: Keynote 5: Claire Colebrook (English, Penn State University), “Exceptional Disasters”
  • 12:00–12.30: Coffee
  • 12.45–13:00: Presentation Assen Ivanov (Artist)
  • 13:00–14:00: Closing remarks, drinks

14:30-18u | Art Lounge | Venue: OPEN Makers, Aalmarkt 15b
With acoustic music and an exposition of talented young artists.

Evening programme (19.30) / Venue: Multipleks, Schuttersveld 1 Leiden

Again an impressive music experience in Multipleks, with main act the Amsterdam band Rooie Waas, and Hunter Complex (Haarlem), Bhava (Utrecht), YesPinkPink (Den Haag)! 

Parallel programme: Cultuur?Barbaar!

From 15-17 May, parallel to the conference, a series of events (art, music, poetry) will take place on various locations in Leiden, organized by Cultuur?Barbaar!. For a full programme (in Dutch) please visit the website: http://cultuurbarbaarfestival.nl/

Organisation, registration and contact

The conference is organised in cooperation with NICA (the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis) and is made possible by LUCAS, the Leiden University Fund and NICA. 


The conference is free and open to the public. If you want to attend, please send an e-mail to LUCAS@hum.leidenuniv.nl to register.


Last Modified: 24-04-2014