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Institutional humanism and the animalization of criminalized refugee youth in Canada Francis, Jenny


Drawing on interviews with youth and youth professionals, this dissertation explores institutional humanism in the lives of the young people who took part in the study by focusing on the operationalization of humanist categories and exclusions in criminal justice, immigration, social welfare, and education policies. Examining the role of policy in the production of precarity, I argue that humanism is smuggled into institutional practice through racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and ableism, which, as expressions of being less than human, depend on the separation of the human (culture) from the non-human (nature) at the core of humanist thought. By creating conditions within which certain bodies are dehumanized and others are humanized, policies perform particular figurations of the human and sub/non-human; via these processes law and policy maintain race, class, gender, and species hierarchies. To make this argument, I analyse four performances that establish the separation of criminalized refugee youth from the human category: the erasure of personal histories, denial of human rights, production of disposability, and subjection to violence. These conditions are prompted by existing narratives that construct criminals, Muslims, Black people, youth, and refugees as less than human (closer to nature). Institutional policies and practices both reinforce and are sustained by discourses of humanity and animality that produce precarity as part of the “anthropological machine” that determines whose body and knowledge matters and who may be subjected to violence and denied rights and protections. These ontological and epistemological questions underscore the fragility of the human conceived as a separate and superior species. Focusing on species also offers a new way to consider how power and identity are inscribed in the lives of refugees and criminalized persons in Canada. Since addressing injustice at a deep level requires consideration of how human/nature dualisms underwrite violence, dispossession, and injustice, my aim is not the extension of liberal humanism to excluded Others, but a transformation of humanism.

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