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Dr. Sonja Schillings


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Hostis Humani Generis and the Narrative Construction of Legitimate Violence

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Winfried Fluck
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ursula Lehmkuhl
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Schülting

Dr. Sonja Schillings dissertation was published with Darmouth College Press, titled Enemies of All Humankind.

Hostis humani generis, meaning “enemy of humankind,” is the legal basis by which Western societies have defined such criminals as pirates, torturers, or terrorists as beyond the pale of civilization.

Sonja Schillings argues that the legal fiction designating certain persons or classes of persons as enemies of all humankind does more than characterize them as inherently hostile: it supplies a narrative basis for legitimating violence in the name of the state. The book draws attention to a century-old narrative pattern that not only underlies the legal category of enemies of the people, but more generally informs interpretations of imperial expansion, protest against structural oppression, and the transformation of institutions as “legitimate” interventions on behalf of civilized society. Schillings traces the Anglo-American interpretive history of the concept, which she sees as crucial to understanding US history, in particular with regard to the frontier, race relations, and the war on terror.

“Sonja Schillings’s impressive study will be fundamental for studying Western conceptions of and relations with violence, in American Studies and beyond.”
—Amerikastudien / American Studies

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft