2.1 Basic Assumptions
2.2 Theories of dehumanization
3. Theories of slavery
3.1 Orlando Patterson
3.2 David Brion Davis
3.3 Claude Meillassoux
4. Dehumanization and theories of slavery
While attending the seminar on sociology of slavery, one question always came to my mind: What has to happen to a person, that he is able to enslave another person and does not find himself in a position of regarding oneself as immoral.
I arrived at the conclusion, that maybe a process of dehumanization is required to make this maltreatment of the same kind possible. If dehumanization is required for slavery, the answer to the question of how anyone could not have sentiments of empathy and compassion towards another human being in a state of exploitation is easy: The slave is not considered human and cannot evoke any of these sensations. That assumption leads to the key hypothesis of this paper, which namely is, that dehumanization is the central prerequisite of slavery. To avoid any misunderstanding, in the following I will try to find out, if dehumanization can be seen as a cornerstone of slavery and not which economical circumstances lead to a slave system.
In terms to figure out if my thesis is consistent, I will compare several theories of dehumanization and try to find a definition what it means to be human and what it means to be dehumanized. Afterwards I will introduce three central theories on slavery and will compare them concerning their central aspects.
To clarify to what extent the theories of dehumanization can be applied to the theories of dehumanization, I will compare the aspects of dehumanization with the assertions of the three slavery theorists. By the help of this theoretical comparison, I will attempt to show which importance the mechanism of dehumanization has in theories of slavery and in the final analysis test if my thesis is sustainable.
2.1 Basic Assumptions
Dehumanization can be generally defined as reasons and methods for the exclusion of people. This includes the partly or full denial the humanity of a person or a group of persons. In this relatively broad definition, every act or thought by which a person is seen as less human, are acts of dehumanization. This encloses every event of racism, chauvinism and degradation, irrespective of the reason or the social acceptance of such deeds. Representatives of this theory argue that all these acts have their foundation in attitudes of exclusion in common and that they hold alike psychological processes, regardless whether the severity of their consequences (cf. Oliver 85f.). As this paper addresses the mechanisms of dehumanization in slave systems, this particular definition of denying humanness to others is widely impractical. Slaves are, shown by the following chapter on slavery theories, in a position of being un-free. This circumstance differs the still occurring forms of dehumanization, such as racism and degradation from those that were an appertaining factor of slave societies. This conceptual distinction must not be understood as a try to palliate the actions that come with the ambit of the previously introduced broader definition of dehumanization, it only serves as a tool for a more precise definition. Dehumanization in this context therefore means not the partial, but the total denial of humanness to a person and a group of persons.
To begin to speak about the different aspects of dehumanization, it is at first necessary to clarify what it means to be human. There are multiple theoretical approaches defining the concept of human qualities that are serving as distinct boundaries between considering a person as human or as non-human. Therefore I will present some of the basic theories on dehumanization, to give a brief overview on the different notions on the topic by different theorists.