On the Origins of the Anthropological Machine: Sacrificial Dispositif and Equality

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


This article takes a genealogical approach to the material origin of what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called the ‘anthropological machine’, analyzing the dispositif by which the ontological and axiological dualism between the ‘human’ and the ‘animal’ first took place in archaic societies. Using some key concepts of René Girard’s anthropology, it is possible to argue that this dualism is rooted in the violent practice of victimage sacrifice. In other words, I claim that the anthropological machine is originally performed by a sacrificial dispositif. Though in modern society the human/animal dichotomy is performed by other dispositifs, the trace of this origin remains in the form of what Gianfranco Mormino calls sacrificial survivals. An analysis of the survival of the violent parameter of equality demonstrates that making a conceptual shift to equality as equal vulnerability is the key to creating a break with the long-lasting effects of the sacrificial dispositif. Continental and feminist approaches to animal studies reflect deeply on vulnerability since it appears to be a promising dimension with which to ground human-animal relations in non-violent ways. If we link these attempts with the Girardian context, it is possible to understand their radical potential for creating socio-political change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalAnimal Studies Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)284-310
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 12.2020
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Philosophy - Critical animal studies, Anthropological machine, René Girard, Sacrifice - Dispositif