Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


People are social beings. Moreover, a person's human identity is socially bestowed, sustained and transformed. People are also moral beings: they have beliefs and rules about how they should act towards each other and how people should treat each other - that is, as human beings, as moral equals. The phenomenon of dehumanization, however, contradicts these beliefs and rules. To dehumanize people is to treat them as less than or other than human. To be dehumanized is to be reduced in the consideration of others to be a thing that can be subjugated, dominated and controlled. As such, dehumanization is the paradox of human interaction.

The phenomenon of dehumanization is mapped out in the field of social psychology through an explication of the conceptual relationship between dehumanization and the phenomena of prejudice, racism and stlgmatization. Relating dehumanization to prejudice, racism and stigmatization reveals the specific dimensions and dynamics of dehumanization. Furthermore, current theories in social psychology that examine people's inhumane treatment of others prove unable to provide an adequate understanding of or insight into dehumanization.

To understand dehumanization it is necessary to develop an adequate theory of this paradoxical social phenomenon. Four desiderata for a theory of dehumanization can provide adequate understanding of the phenomenon: 1. a theory of dehumanization needs to be based upon a model of an idealtypical humanizing environment; 2. a theory needs to provide understanding of the different dimensions of dehumanization - that is dehumanization between and within groups; 3. a theory needs to provide understanding of the attraction and maintenance of dehumanization; 4. a theory needs to present possibilities and probabilities for lessening and precluding dehumanization in human interaction.

A model of an ideal-typical humanizing environment is presented based on usufruct and the equality of unequals. The aim of the non-hierarchical operations of the group would be for all members to consider themselves and to respect all others as capable of managing their own lives. By developing a model of an ideal-typical humanizing environment it becomes possible to identify where given social environments depart from the ideal type and thus are conducive to the development of dehumanization.

The theory of dehumanization shows how people have come to value having power-over others so as to maintain the moral order of their own group or their own identity within their group. Consequently, social relations have become structured on the basis of people and groups who are superiors over inferior "Others" (different individuals and different groups). Once established, hierarchies need to be maintained so that the members may sustain their identity as being superior to Others. Furthermore, with the maintenance of a hierarchical social structure, those lower in the hierarchy relinquish their agency by submitting to the commands of those at the top. Consequently, people who have increasingly less or no power-over Others in a hierarchy may come to see themselves as determined beings, dehumanizing themselves and thus further sustaining the social hierarchy. The situation seems impossible to change; however the theory suggests ways in which dehumanization may be lessened and precluded from social interactions.

In conclusion, three Case Studies are presented as examples of dehumanization: 1. The Genocide of Australia's Tasmanian Aborigines; 2. Joseph Merrick - "The Elephant Man"; 3. Sanctioned Massacres - An Effect of War. The application of the theory to the Case Studies brings new understanding and insight into the paradox of dehumanization.