Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History


Congratulations to Samera EsmeirHumanity editorial board member, on the publication of her new book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford University Press).

Here’s the publisher’s description:

In colonial Egypt, the state introduced legal reforms that claimed to liberate Egyptians from the inhumanity of pre-colonial rule and elevate them to the status of human beings. These legal reforms intersected with a new historical consciousness that distinguished freedom from force and the human from the pre-human, endowing modern law with the power to accomplish but never truly secure this transition. 

Samera Esmeir offers a historical and theoretical account of the colonizing operations of modern law in Egypt. Investigating the law, both on the books and in practice, she underscores the centrality of the “human” to Egyptian legal and colonial history and argues that the production of “juridical humanity” was a constitutive force of colonial rule and subjugation. This original contribution queries long-held assumptions about the entanglement of law, humanity, violence, and nature, and thereby develops a new reading of the history of colonialism.

Here are the endorsements:

“Samera Esmeir delivers an extremely compelling and smart interweaving of time, legality, and postcolonialism. Juridical Humanity is an innovative tool for those working in legal and postcolonial theory and represents a major leap forward in postcolonial thinking.”—Keally McBride, University of San Francisco

“This brilliant new study provides a broad and persuasive genealogy of juridical humanity in colonial Egypt. In a work of immensely creative theorization and superb historical scholarship, Esmeir radically rethinks the relationship between modern law, the human, and violence, challenging the ascendancy of narratives in which the human is always chained to the law. This book will be essential reading for historians, and scholars in Colonial/Postcolonial Studies and Political and Legal theory alike.”—Omnia El Shakry, University of California, Davis

Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History is an impressive work of scholarship—original, soundly argued, and thought provoking. Although existing histories of law distinguish between colonial and pre-colonial periods, Esmeir argues persuasively against the distinction, insisting that essential aspects of the latter can only be understood by examining how the former construed and dealt with it. This book helps the reader to formulate questions about the history of law and society in the Middle East that have not been raised in this way before. It deserves to be widely read by everyone interested in the Middle East.”—Talal Asad, CUNY Graduate Center, author ofFormations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity


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About Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn is JHenry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and professor of history at Yale University. He has written several books in his fields of European intellectual history and human rights history, including The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, 2010), and edited or coedited a number of others. His most recent books are Christian Human Rights (Penn, 2015), based on Mellon Distinguished Lectures at the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2014, and Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard, 2018).

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