Accepted paper:

Law and its subjects: creating the world through legal processes


Hans Chr. Korsholm Nielsen (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Based on descriptions of trials held against animals in Europe until the 19th century, this paper discusses how law and legal procedures define their subjects and create ontologies that define the relationship between those (humans) engaging in the legal trial, and animals and innate objects.

Paper long abstract:

During a period spanning from the 13th to (at least) the 19th century it was common in Europe to arrange court trials against animals. What was special about these trials were that they were enacted as exact replicas of ordinary court cases: for a pig accused of having killed or maimed a child or beetles accused of having destroyed the crops - a defense lawyer was appointed who was to speak for the animal(s), a prosecutor was appointed, representing the state or the local community, and the trial was held in an ordinary court room overseen - and adjudicated by a judge, registered by clerks etc. In most cases the animals were sentenced to death by hanging, excommunicated - or in rare cases - imprisoned. These descriptions, which are both amusing and thought provoking, raise a wide range of interesting questions concerning how to define a legal subject or how to define law, and they point to a range of questions about different ontologies and the interaction between these. This presentation will depart from descriptions of a number of cases from Denmark raised against rats and held in the 18th and 19th century, and thereby look into how those arranging the trials related to the accused animals - as animals and as legal subjects.

panel P007
'Grounding': when multiple ontologies meet material facts