Date of Submission



In my thesis I am looking at the way that dignity is used in political action, 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 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. It also becomes a politically much more interesting concept, because the account that we give of it matters politically, since the judgements and partialities that are present in every conception of dignity create inclusions and exclusions. It also means that dignity always has to be constructed and reiterated, which keeps open the possibility of iterating it differently, and consequently the meaning of dignity is not fixed or fixable.


Institute for Social Justice

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


218 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Social and Political Thought (PhDSPT)


Faculty of Education and Arts