What It Means to Be Human by Joanna Bourke
Historical Reflections from the 1800s to the Present

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Synopsis

In 1872, a woman known only as “An Earnest Englishwoman” published a letter titled “Are Women Animals?” in which she protested against the fact that women were not treated as fully human. In fact, their status was worse than that of animals: regulations prohibiting cruelty against dogs, horses, and cattle were significantly more punitive than laws against cruelty to women. The Earnest Englishwoman’s heartfelt cry was for women to “become-animal” in order to gain the status that they were denied on the grounds that they were not part of “mankind.”

In this fascinating account, Joanna Bourke addresses the profound question of what it means to be “human” rather than “animal.” How are people excluded from political personhood? How does one become entitled to rights? The distinction between the two concepts is a blurred line, permanently under construction. If the Earnest Englishwoman had been capable of looking 100 years into the future, she might have wondered about the human status of chimeras, or the ethics of stem cell research. Political disclosures and scientific advances have been re-locating the human-animal border at an alarming speed. In this meticulously researched, illuminating book, Bourke explores the legacy of more than two centuries, and looks forward into what the future might hold for humans, women, and animals.
 

About Joanna Bourke

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Joanna Bourke teaches history at Birkbeck College, London. Her books include "Dismembering the Male: Men's Bodies, Britian and the Great War" (1996).
 
Published December 1, 2011 by Counterpoint. 448 pages
Genres: History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for What It Means to Be Human

Kirkus Reviews

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All criteria for dividing human from nonhuman—e.g., language, intellectual ability, use of tools, possession of a soul or belief in God—are seen to be inadequate, but humanity's continuing and futile efforts to make such a demarcation is "the greatest driving force of history and also the inspira...

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The Guardian

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Bourke's critique of the concept of human rights opens an important debate on a complacent ideal, while her cross-examination of animal welfare should give all parties pause for thought.

Oct 07 2011 | Read Full Review of What It Means to Be Human: Hi...

The Guardian

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It underpins her critique of human rights – "a volatile principle on which to base ethics", as she rightly observes – and her decisive conclusion, "The autonomous, self-willed 'human' at the heart of humanist thinking is a fantasy, a chimera."

Oct 26 2011 | Read Full Review of What It Means to Be Human: Hi...

The Telegraph

The essential gift book for any pet lover - real-life tales of devoted dogs, .

Nov 17 2011 | Read Full Review of What It Means to Be Human: Hi...

Artswrap

- Mark Kurlansky Trending on Artswrap Artists' Textiles: 1940 - 1976 - Geoff Rayner London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Antonio Pappano - The Barbican - 2012 Graham Sutherland: An U...

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Artswrap

The Origins of Political Order: From Pre-Human Times to the French Revolution, By Francis Fukuyama Great Thinkers: In Their Own Words: Human, All Too Human Trending on Artswrap Artists' Textiles: 1940 - 1976 - Geoff Rayner ...

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Artswrap - What it Means to be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present - Joanna Bourke Search this site: Log In / Register ...

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Reviews in History

One can imagine her agreeing enthusiastically with Sartre’s critique of psychology, that ‘a definitive concept of man [sic] … is postponed to infinity’.(3)She disrupts concepts where others have claimed categorical certainty – human, animal, non-human animal, human animal, male, female, black, wh...

May 03 2012 | Read Full Review of What It Means to Be Human: Hi...

The Humanist

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