Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Shaun Gallagher

Committee Member

Michael Monahan

Committee Member

Remy Debes

Committee Member

Kas Sahafi

Committee Member

Drucilla Cornell


This dissertation argues that an embodied legal subject is necessary to reorient law toward moral justice and describes how this subject alters the interpretation of legal texts. More specifically, it contends that humans’ mutual embodiment and institutionally-mediated vulnerability justifies basing adjudication on lived experience alongside—and given similar interpretive weight as—traditional legal texts. To justify this contention, it argues that Ronald Dworkin’s legal and political thought can be grounded by G.W.F. Hegel’s concept of “ethical life” (Sittlichkeit)—the integrated moral and political community—by dint of Dworkin’s distinctive account of dignity. It then uses this reading of Dworkin to propose a theory of legal subjectivity—i.e., the persona that is the object of legal analysis—that is both embodied and embedded within its legal community, such that dignity is a function of mutual social recognition. To operationalize this subject as co-constituted with the community, the dissertation defends a robust social ontology using the critical phenomenology of Frantz Fanon and the embodied hermeneutics of Paul Ricœur. Since the very existence of the embodied subject is its co-constitution with others and its inviolable dignity, the dissertation proposes a novel theory of legal interpretation that reads law in terms of intercorporeal intersubjectivity; this elevates the lived experience of the embodied legal subject to be as authoritative a source of legal norms as case law and constitutions. It then contends that this carnal legal hermeneutic can orient law toward a justice beyond legal process alone before demonstrating this contention by critiquing the recent United States Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder using this hermeneutic. In so doing, the dissertation argues that the socio-cultural, material, and spatial embeddedness of race-based voter disenfranchisement means that legal officials must instead consider the lived reality of easily identifiable persons who risk the concrete indignity of losing their capacities as full citizens.


Data is provided by the student

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open Access