UCL Anthropology


Non-human personhood? Volker Sommer @ UCL's Lunch-hour lecture

1:00 pm to 2:00 pm, 24 October 2017


Event Information

Open to



Darwin Lecture Theatre



They raised the roof the first time around. For the 6-lecture mini-series of "Encore!", the UCL events team invited the most popular LHL (Lunch Hour Lecture) speakers back for a curtain call - including Volker Sommer, whose 2011 talk "Against Nature? Homosexuality and Evolution" is among the highest viewed LHLs on UCL's YouTube channel. Volker Sommer will again speak on the broader theme of equality and inclusivity

Date: 24 Oct 2017, 13:00, Darwin Lecture Theatre

Title: Non-Human Personhood? Demanding Legal Rights For Our Next Of Kin


Is a chimpanzee a thing or a person? Is an orangutan an item of property or a being with legal rights? Around the globe, lawyers, philosophers and scientists have begun arguing such questions. While some say that only humans can hold rights, others want to grant entitlements to non-humans, too - such as a right to life or freedom. Primatologist Volker Sommer illustrates this controversy about who should belong to the "community of equals". He takes us on a journey from the wilderness to the laboratory to the courtroom, following what might be the dawn of a new era of inclusivity.


  • The public is often concerned with ethical considerations regarding endangered species.
  • Animal rights perspectives receive less attention - for example, demands that non-human primates should be recognized as "persons", instead of being "property".
  • Opponents want to restrict personhood to humans, as they can observe social contracts.
  • Proponents point out that monkeys or apes embody sentience and complex mental landscapes. 
  • Continuing historic struggles against discriminatory concepts such as nationalism, racism, sexism or heterosexism, the discourse about non-human personhood confronts a new frontier: speciesism.


Photo Credit:

  • Big photo with many primates - Photo by Mischa Haller
  • Volker Sommer portrait - Photo by Alex Schelbert / DAZ