The executed body is never merely a body, and the method of its execution is never simply a method. Each conspires to construct the other, and together, they participate in the constitution of an executable subject. At some times, and in some places, that subject can become an agent of ethical import, however circumscribed that agency may be, and so a thing that is recognizable as a human being. In other places, at other times, that subject can become an object, and so something that frustrates efforts to recall that this, too, may once have been a being who was human.
One way to chart the difference between these two executable subjects is to ask whether – and if so, how – the category of dignity is employed in characterizing each. The intelligibility of this category turns not on whether the subject in question does or does not possess some antecedent or essential quality that can be accurately represented via this terminology. Instead, the meaningfulness of the category of dignity turns on the existence and exercise of historically contingent as well as fragile practices that regulate bodies in certain ways as opposed to others. Given one set of practices, a body may appear as an agent who can affirm a meaningful claim to dignity as well as the forms of treatment to which an ethical subject is entitled.
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