Institute for Social Justice


Mirjam van der Heide

Mirjam van der Heide

Dignity as a Performative Concept

In my thesis I am looking at the way that dignity is used in political protest, and how this can inform and enrich the way it is theorised. In the literature on dignity, there is suspicion and scepticism about the concept, whereas in protests it is used as a powerful and meaningful concept. Although there seems to be a huge discrepancy between these uses, the role of the concept of dignity in both domains is the same: it says something about how we ought to treat each other in virtue of a special quality. In the literature, dignity is conceptualised as something that we have, as a status concept, that is, as an inherent value. I will argue that instead we should focus on dignity as something we do, or as a performative concept. A performative concept sees dignity as something that is embodied and constituted through our doing. Therefore, it is better able to capture the way that dignity is experienced; the importance of the social and historical context in which it is used; and account for changes in the scope and meaning of dignity. I will illustrate why it makes more sense to look at dignity as a performative concept by discussing three cases of how dignity is used in protests.

I studied philosophy at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. My main research interests are in social and political philosophy and political theory. I am particularly interested in question around inclusion and exclusion, marginalisation, (social) invisibility and receptivity.