Seminar – Bodies of the Law: Between Technologies Corporate and Rotten

The Dundee Law School and Division of Humanities at the University of Dundee are delighted to welcome Dr Timothy D Peters from University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, for a bespoke seminar.


Room 4.01, Scrymgeour Building.


2.00 – 3.30 pm, Monday 12th September.


Dr Thom Giddens (Event Chair, Dundee Law School); Dr Timothy D Peters (Speaker, Law); Dr Dominic Smith (Speaker, Philosophy).

Guiding Problem:

The frontispiece to Hobbes’ Leviathan famously depicts a series of tensions between state and church: the political, martial, and legal bodies of the state on the left; the ecclesiastical bodies of the church on the right. Above all, we find the body of the sovereign: incorporating the will of the people, it is meant to resolve the tensions between earthly and heavenly bodies. Beyond the written argument in favour of absolute monarchy found between Leviathan’s covers, the frontispiece visualises something with a deeper grip on our political, legal and philosophical imaginaries: the body itself.  

Where do things stand for the bodies of the law and sovereignty today? What bodies would have to stand in a reimagined Hobbesian frontispiece? Where would data centres, archives, universities, nonhuman animals, corporate persons, and transnational corporations figure? Or: do these complex other bodies invite us to lay the imaginary informing Leviathan to rest, once and for all?  

In the spirit of exploring interdisciplinary connections in the newly formed School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the University of Dundee, join us for this seminar at the intersection of critical legal studies and philosophy of technology.

Two twenty-minute papers will stake out a space for rethinking where earthly and heavenly bodies stand today: between what still may tend towards heaven (or Leviathan) in our concept of corporate personhood, and what may be rotten in our technological practices and infrastructures. The remainder of the time will be devoted to a collective discussion aimed at giving flesh to our sense of the bodies of the law today.

Extended abstracts:

 Tools, Animate Instruments and Corporate Persons:
A Political Theology of Corporate Technology

Dr Timothy D Peters
School of Law & Society, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

For the late Roman Catholic theologian, Ivan Illich, the origin of the modern understanding of tools and technology arose in the twelfth century, in tandem with the emergence in sacramental theology of an additional conceptualisation of causation: ‘instrumental cause’ as a subset of ‘efficient cause’. For Illich, what was significant and had not been recognisable before, was the concept of a tool as separate from the individual deploying it. This parallels the formalisation, during the same period, of the effectiveness of the sacraments, which Giorgio Agamben has detailed in his genealogy of office, as independent of the priest as ‘animate instrument’ performing them. In this paper I wish to explore a third emergent concept in this period alongside that of the tool and the animate instrument: the medieval figuring of corporate personhood as something independent (rather than a combination of) those that constitute a particular organisational body. This concurrent emergence of a particular notion of the artificiality of corporate personhood, functioning alongside the instrumentality of both tool and office, I argue, is crucial to understanding the configuration of our current conditions in regards to law, technology and the human. As corporate law historian and scholar Susan Watson has identified, the modern debates regarding the nature of artificial intelligence and corporate personhood are not so much the generation of a radically different configuration but rather a straightforward extension of modern corporations (encompassing legal personhood and limited liability) that already operate as nearly autonomous systems to the exclusion or separation of the human. As such, the paradigms of today’s considerations of the intersections of law and technology, particularly as they relate to corporations, artificial intelligence and automated decision-making—as well as the emergence of decentralised autonomous organisations—trace their origin to a similar point of understanding the emergence of technology, its relation to human activity and the notion of corporateness. That is, the shift from a form of participatory communion and the coming together of humans to the recognition as a separate, manufactured and autonomous artificial entity. Recognising these contours sheds light on the way in which further proliferation of this particular form of legal personhood—as, for example, recommended by the Coalition of Automated Legal Applications and being considered by the Australian government in relation to decentralised autonomous organisations—reproduces the very separation and exclusion of the human.

Dr Timothy D Peters is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the School of Law and Society, University of the Sunshine Coast, an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Law Futures Centre, Griffith University and President of the Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia. He is author of A Theological Jurisprudence of Speculative Cinema: Superheroes, Science Fictions and Fantasies of Modern Law (Edinburgh University Press, 2022), co-editor of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Cultural Legal Studies and the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (project number DE200100881) funded by the Australian Government, examining ‘New Approaches to Corporate Legality: Beyond Neoliberal Governance’.

What a Lot of Rot: Philosophy of Technology Beyond the ‘Fantasy of Abundance’

Dr Dominic Smith

School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law, University of Dundee, Division of Humanities, Philosophy Programme.

In a June 2021 article entitled ‘The Internet is Rotting’, Jonathan Zittrain points towards ‘link rot’ and ‘content drift’ as growing epistemological challenges facing legal practitioners and scholars today (Zittrain 2021). Link rot occurs when embedded links within documents no longer work, and content drift occurs when linked content is changed; these are, Zittrain argues, acute problems for the legal community today because they affect a growing number of documents that are fundamental to legal cases. In this paper, I foreground these problems, and consider the extent to which they are not merely the specialised concern of the legal community. Rather, the acuteness of the problem at this level points towards broader philosophical and educational challenges that are endemic across information societies. What is most fundamentally required to address these challenges, I argue, is a paradigm shift away from what Jodi Dean has called a ‘fantasy of abundance’ model of the Internet (2005), towards a model of educative practice that is capable of recognising and dealing with issues of rot, decay and omission that are in fact central to our technologies. To make this case, I focus on one clear example where a practice of building technologically mediated links was sustained in spite of acute issues of rot, decay and omission: Walter Benjamin’s radio work (2014).

Dominic Smith is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee, where he researches philosophy of technology/media. Dominic is particularly interested in bringing the continental tradition in philosophy (e.g. phenomenology, critical theory, poststructuralism, new forms of realism and materialism) to bear on philosophy of technology and media. Dominic’s latest book is Exceptional Technologies: A Continental Philosophy of Technology. His current project involves thinking about how philosophy of technology can be broadened to speak to issues in philosophy of education, design, and creativity, with a focus on the work of Walter Benjamin. He is a founding member of the Scottish Centre for Continental Philosophy at Dundee (

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