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The Law Is a White DogHow Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons$
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Colin Dayan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691070919

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691070919.001.0001

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Civil Death

Civil Death

(p.39) 2 Civil Death
The Law Is a White Dog

Colin Dayan

Princeton University Press

This chapter analyzes what happens to persons in two cases: the free person of property who commits a felony and undergoes civil death and the enslaved person, who, as bearer of “negative personhood,” has undergone social death. In most instances, though the person declared civilly dead has property to lose, the slave who never had property is property in fact, and can never have any independent relation to property. However, both of these characterizations possess juridical significance in so far as they recognize the individual as “a kind of civil ghost.” Rather than focus on the various and sometimes diffuse consequences of social marginalization, the chapter traces instead a developing logic in modern law. By the eighteenth century, Judeo-Christian antecedents and inchoate traditions of punishment were redrawn and fully articulated as a rationale appropriate to the needs of emerging modernity.

Keywords:   civil death, felon, slave, social death, civil ghost, social marginalization, modern law, Judeo-Christian, punishment, modernity

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