Collaborative Research Networks

CRN18 Legal Personhood


Dr Anna Arstein-Kerslake and Dr Erin O’Donnell

The past decade has seen substantive shifts in the recognition of what constitutes legal personhood, the relationship between legal persons and human persons, and the role of the state in enabling personhood. This transition has occurred across multiple fields of law, as the obligations on the state have shifted from non-interference in personhood, to active support and enabling of personhood. This has had significant impact in the disability context, as well as in environmental law, animal rights, and Indigenous rights, among other fields. This CRN brings together scholars from multiple disciplines who are exploring the definitions, boundaries, and power of legal personhood, and enables a conversation across these multiple areas of law around the theme of personhood and the obligations of the state.

We can already identify key examples in multiple legal contexts. In disability rights, international law now requires the state to support decision-making and agency of all people with disabilities. In environment law, rivers and other natural objects have been recognised as legal persons with specific rights, although this has been accompanied by highly varying levels of state support and increasing tensions between (existing) legal subjects and legal objects. What do these new obligations say about the role of the state in enabling personhood? How is law evolving to both recognise new persons as well as enable their full agency? Does this expanded recognition of personhood re-insert the power of the state, or does it harness this power to support vulnerable persons (perhaps both)? This increasing emphasis on the obligations of the state provides a new way to imagine and envision the role of the state, as well as reconnecting ‘rights talk’ to a meaningful discussion of obligations, particularly in the context of vulnerability.

This CRN will provide a platform in LSA for scholars to come together to further explore legal personhood. There is no CRN currently focused on legal personhood. However, many LSA members have been meeting and collaborating on the subject. The establishment of this CRN will allow LSA members and others to have a platform to come together, organise panels at the annual meetings, and otherwise collaborate on this emerging and topical socio-legal subject.


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