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Dr Visa AJ Kurki

Visa Kurki is a Finnish legal scholar and philosopher, currently an Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Fellow at the Law Faculty of the University of Helsinki. He completed his PhD in Legal Philosophy in 2017 at the Law Faculty of the University of Cambridge.






A Theory of Legal Personhood

Oxford University Press 2019 – now Open Access                                                          

Book Blurb: Who, or what, is a 'person' according to the law? How did this understanding of personhood come about? In the twenty-first century, environmentalism, animal rights, artificial intelligence, and corporate personhood have compelled us to consider these questions once again. Legal personhood is a foundational concept of Western legal thought and A Theory of Legal Personhood seeks to go beyond contemporary debates, challenging our very understanding of legal personhood itself.

“The broad scope of the topics, the timelessness of the issues, and the rigor with which Kurki tackles them all make this book no less than an instant classic.” Amin Ebrahimi, Modern Law Review.



What made you write on this topic?

I originally got interested in legal personhood when I was writing my Master’s thesis on the legal rights of animals. Almost all of the literature endorsed an underlying axiom: that animals do not currently have legal rights because they are not legal persons. The more I thought about this, the less sense it made: what exact difference does legal personhood make? I then gradually realized that the whole notion of legal personhood seemed to warrant a systematic investigation. That investigation would become my PhD project, and then this book.


How long did it take to produce your book from initial conception to publication?

Well, depends on what you mean by “initial conception”! I started my PhD at Cambridge in January 2014, with two other people (all of whom went on to become full-time academics, by the way). What I wanted to do was relatively clear from the start. I did submit my dissertation after three years, and the book was published in 2019.


What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I have a lot of ideas, and I like to jot them down. That part is easy. But after that comes the tough part. For me, writing is indistinguishable from thinking. I think things through by writing them down, and that may take a while. This part of writing may occasionally be very difficult and frustrating. But at some point, things start to fall down into place: suddenly I have an article or a chapter that starts to make sense. Things get easier from there.


Why should people read your book? What can International  Lawyers take from it?

Legal personhood is a very important topic in international law, and there are not that many book-length treatments of the notion. I should note that the book does not specifically address legal personhood in international law, but my gut feeling is that its core message applies to international law as well. This core message is that legal personhood is much less black-and-white than is traditionally assumed. I could be wrong, of course – if one of your readers disagrees, I’d love to know. The book did also receive a couple of awards. And even better – it’s been Open Access since August 2020!


What book is currently on your bedside table?

I tend to read many books at the same time. On my bedside table is my Kindle, which I’m currently using to read The Internationalists (by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro), but also Halo: The Fall of Reach (by Eric Nylund) – a science fiction novel. Furthermore, I’m currently listening to Barack Obama’s recent autobiography as an audiobook.


What are you working on now?

I have a number of projects going on. I’m still dabbling in legal personhood, partly because the topic is becoming increasingly mainstream and people now ask me to contribute to all sorts of special issues, handbooks etc. I also currently direct a research project on the theory and general principles of animal law. Finally, I’ve been working on group agency and law. There is a lot of recent philosophical work on group agents, i.e. agents constituted by people acting together (criminal gangs, rock bands and so on), and I’ve been using that philosophical work to better understand the law.