The right to life: Human life, bio-power and the performativity of law

Casimir MacGregor

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1 Citation (Scopus)


This article considers the performativity of law in regard to constructing life as either human or nonhuman; personifying a 15 days group of cells while transforming a fully formed foetus to hospital waste. I suggest that the practice of a human rights approach to a sociology of bioknowledge needs to attend to the contested nature of humanness and the question of how law is operationalised within power/knowledge. I argue that such an approach would include recognition of the process of the creation and the bearing of rights, especially the right to life that is based upon a particular relationship between nature and culture. Finally, I argue that law is central to constituting humanness, as human life can be paradoxically both included and excluded by law. The practice of a human rights approach to a sociology of bioknowledge must focus on the performativity of law, as law is a tool of biopower that regulates the right to life. (c) The Author(s) 2015
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47 - 62
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • bio-power
  • human embryo
  • human foetus
  • law
  • life
  • performativity

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