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Summer 2016 Vol. 7.2

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Wollstonecraft, Human Rights, and the Care of the Self

Alexandre Lefebvre

In this article I propose that Mary Wollstonecraft puts forward an original and powerful conception of human rights in Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Drawing on Michel Foucault’s later work on ethics and the care of the self, I argue that Wollstonecraft sees the great promise of human rights as helping individuals (and women in particular) to overcome their attachment to a culture that devastates any chance they may have to lead a happy, full life. Writing at the origin of the human rights tradition, she provides a clear and powerful account of how it is possible to conceive of human rights from an ethical perspective, as a device to cultivate and care for one’s own self.

Non-Alignment, 1946-65: Its Establishment and Struggle against Afro-Asianism

Lorenz Lüthi

Scholars often confuse Non-Alignment and Afro-Asianism. Although sibling movements with shared roots in Nehruvian thinking, they had diverse, though overlapping, sets of members and different goals. The current article explores through the lens of the three founding fathers of Non-Alignment—Nehru, Tito, and Nasser—how the movement emerged and eventually struggled to free itself from Afro-Asianism. Nehru toyed with ideas of non-alignment since World War II, before Tito and Nasser were even in power. In the mid-1950s, the Indian Prime Minister was able to convince the Yugoslav President of his ideas; shortly afterwards, Tito convinced Nasser to join. In the five subsequent years, the Yugoslav and Egyptian leaders promoted the ideas of establishing a formal movement—often against the positions of their Indian friend. And from 1961 to 1965, during its first four years as a movement, Non-Alignment eventually broke free from Afro-Asianism. The article uses archival documents from India, former Yugoslavia, former East Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and Australia.

To Secure the Global Great Society: Participation in Pacification

Stuart Schrader

The U.S. federal mandate of community participation, which defined the social-welfare programming of the Great Society’s War on Poverty, was recapitulated in U.S. foreign aid through Title IX of the 1966 Foreign Assistance Act. Many agencies adhered to this mandate, including, surprisingly, those concerned with counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. This article, therefore, inquires into the mechanics of pacification, demonstrating that the population whose security was at stake was responsible for its own participation in achieving security. By placing the linkage between community development and security in a transnational frame, this article shows that pacification must be considered a productive, not simply destructive, form of governance.

Reluctant Cosmopolitanism: Perceptions Management and the Performance of Humanitarian Principles

Michal Givoni

Following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, humanitarian organizations grew increasingly preoccupied with the ways in which people in the field perceive them. In order to address the blurring of lines between military and humanitarian interventions, they undertook perceptions studies and enhanced their networking and field communication capacities, thereby turning the monitoring and management of local perceptions into a knowledge-based and more systematic endeavor. This article examines the conjunctures that have turned the views of so-called stakeholders into a strategic issue for contemporary humanitarianism. Based on an analysis of the rise of perceptions management, it demonstrates just how indebted the humanitarian hold over emergency zones is to political technologies that analyze the arenas in which humanitarian actors operate in order to make them more hospitable and responsive to humanitarian efforts.

Towards a New Sociology of Human Rights?

Mikael Rask Madsen and Gert Verschraegen

While disciplines such as law and history have now developed distinct subfields of human rights research, sociology only more recently started developing a clear research agenda with regard to human rights. The work reviewed in this article, sociologist Hans Joas’ book The Sacredness of the Person, is an important addition to the new sociological research into human rights. In this essay we outline the key thesis underlying the book, namely the social process of sacralization of human personhood and discusses it against advances in the sociology of human rights, notably the sociology of law, and recent historical scholarship on human rights.

The External Struggle Against Apartheid: New Perspectives

Simon Stevens

Stevens reviews Ryan Irwin’s Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order (2012) and Rob Skinner’s The Foundations of Anti-Apartheid: Liberal Humanitarians and Transnational Activists in Britain and the United States, c. 1919–64 (2010), two of the first published studies from an emerging stream of more detached and critical scholarship on the global anti-apartheid movement. The review essay addresses the questions of periodization, strategy, ideology, and the kinds of actors on which scholars focus, highlighting the ways in which these books advance the study of the external struggle against apartheid and the avenues for future research that they suggest.

The Laws of War: A Scrap of Paper?

Boyd van Dijk

This review essay explores the history of international law in wartime. In the volume Law and War, the editors underline the idea that this body of law has become a central pillar in the debate about how the so-called “War on Terror” is being conducted. Isabel Hull’s important book, A Scrap of Paper, goes one step further by pointing out that international law already played a critical role in decision-making during the catastrophic Great War. Her meticulous research reveals that belligerents during these years reflected extensively on how to abide by that law—and they did so to an extent that we tend to forget in these four years of centennial celebrations.

The Humanitarian God in the Political Marketplace

Pamela Beth Harris

Realist critiques have understandably faulted the human rights project for being both too ambitiously utopian on the one hand, and too compromisingly modest on the other. Starting from this basic challenge to the moral and practical appeal of human rights, this article examines two recent responses. Stephen Hopgood, in Endtimes for Human Rights, argues that international human rights has come to serve a pernicious, American neo-liberalism, and thus ought to be abandoned in favor of local self-determination. Alison Brysk, in Speaking Rights to Power, accepts that human rights activists must compete to win an audience in a pluralist political marketplace, and offers practical advice for doing this as effectively as possible. While a pragmatic refocus in the face of lost utopia may lead Hopgood to reject the value of international human rights altogether, Brysk seeks to salvage what she can, in the hope of promoting more modest and incremental improvements.

Spring 2016 Vol. 7.1

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Dossier on Africa, Human Rights, and Humanitarianism


Amal Hassan Fadlalla, Omolade Adunbi

In his analysis of human rights languages and metaphors, Makau Mutua argues that the human rights project reproduces colonial imageries of Africa’s savagery and barbarism. In his early work, Mutua argued that human rights discourse is characterized by a narrative of saviors, victims, and savages, where the victims and savages are Africans in need of rescue and civilization. Although the position of ‘‘savage’’ has now shifted from individuals to the African state, Mutua’s tripartite classification remains intact in many analyses of the role of human rights discourses and practices in Africa. The emphasis is on Africans’ cultural incapacity to rule, and human rights are proposed as a means through which to rebuild the African nation-state, exemplifying liberal democracy and good governance. Although such tropes continue to infuse contemporary human rights and humanitarian languages and practices, a narrow focus on a savior/savage analysis overlooks the strategies and social positions of various translocal actors and their conscious appropriation of these languages and metaphors. Such a dichotomous analysis of human rights and humanitarian practices also prevents us from understanding how various transnational players mobilize gender, ethnic, and class disparities to fight for justice and contest the global connections that produce violence and dispossession at this particular moment. This special issue highlights these nuances and explores interconnected themes related to the cultural politics of human rights and humanitarianism in Africa.

Humanitarian Dispossession: Celebrity Activism and the Fragment-Nation of the Sudan

Amal Hassan Fadlalla

This paper examines U.S. actor George Clooney’s activism on the Sudan to show how the intersection of human rights and humanitarian politics constructs a grand narrative of rescue and salvation that is both potentially positive and problematic. In the case of Africa in general, and the Sudan in particular, celebrity activism produces subaltern actors whose voices are submerged in the fragmented stories of suffering and salvation presented by humanitarian outsiders. I show how this master narrative overshadows the post-Cold War politics and confrontation among different national and transnational actors. To highlight this point, I demonstrate how Clooney’s activism counters the rescue vision of the Sudanese Islamist regime, with both narratives celebrating transnationality on different moral grounds. While Clooney’s activism employs a salvation narrative rooted in human rights and humanitarian practices, the Islamist state’s narrative envisions regional alliances based on pan-Islamism. The two narratives however work through the assimilation and/or exclusion of other political visions and strategies of struggle. I take Clooney’s celebrity activism as an entry point to examine these complex dynamics: to explore the historical and neoliberal contexts that produce the clashing narratives of Islamism and humanitarianism, the limited effects of humanitarian visibilities, and the counter-narratives of Sudanese activists.

Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans

Lisa Ann Richey, Alexandra Cosima Budabin

From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses.

When Rights Come Home: The Intimate Politics of Women’s Rights in Urban Uganda

Robert Wyrod

Discussions of human rights in Africa often turn on a clash between western assumptions about the sovereign individual and African kin-based identities sustained through ties of reciprocity. While this framing has proved useful in troubling notions of universal rights, it has also obscured complex African engagements with contemporary rights discourse. An important step in mapping these more nuanced dynamics is examining the intimate politics of rights in everyday social interaction. Drawing on ethnographic research of long-term, intimate relationships in urban Uganda, this article shows that intricate negotiations over men’s authority and women’s agency occur in these relationships as women’s rights are remade within the local context. This article, therefore, provides much needed attention to the intimate politics of women’s rights, both in terms of how intimate relationships shape the meaning of rights as well as how rights shape intimacy in urban Africa.

The Cry for Human Rights: Violence, Transition, and the Egyptian Revolution

Nadine Naber, Atef Said

This paper interrogates moments in which American corporate media, the U.S. government, and U.S. academic discourses have relied upon what we call a liberal-Orientalist “cry for human rights” to represent the Egyptian revolution. We focus on U.S. public discussions regarding: 1) the process of transition following the Egyptian revolution, and 2) violence—specifically, gendered sexual violence and torture in Egypt. We are particularly concerned with how this framing of human rights both relies upon and reinforces global neoliberalism and its attendant forms of violence. We argue that analyses framed as a “cry for human rights” fail to account for the complex and dynamic historical and political contexts in which violence and transition take place, and the multiple, interconnected structures of power that impact revolutionary change. Far from questioning the value of protecting women’s rights or human rights, our goals are to examine the limitations inherent to liberal-Orientalist epistemological frameworks and highlight the connections between interpersonal violence, Egyptian state violence, and U.S.-led imperial practices in Egypt.

Conservation, Neoliberalism, and Human Rights in Kenya’s Arid Lands

Bilal Butt

Records of drone flights during the Cold War include photographs, engineering documents, commercial pamphlets, and newspaper articles. This series of images photographed pieces of documentation and re-created scenes to consider the anachronism of Cold War target drones in the midst of contemporary “unmanned” warfare. The five triptychs and accompanying essay ask how drone technologies, and the humans who produce and operate them, map onto visible and invisible domestic and international spaces and with what consequences? The pieces underscore the persistence of secrecy and the interplay between soldier, enemy and target, even as the images undo current notions of drone aircraft.

Photo Essays

Suame Magazine

Yepoka Yeebo

This photo essays depicts life in Suame Magazine, a 20-mile informal industrial area in Kumasi, Ghana. Over 200,000 skilled workers fill the open-air production lines, wooden stalls, and concrete factories. Around a million dollars passes through the hands of the 12,000 small businesses based at Suame Magazine daily. The district emerged in the 1930s, around a colonial-era armory. When Ghana’s economy faltered and a series of economic reforms in the 1970s cut the stream of imported spare parts, skilled mechanics started to work for themselves, learning to make and refurbish spare parts to replace the dwindling supply of imports..

Reflections on Ghana’s Informal Economy at Fifty Years

Keith Hart

In this essay, the author juxtaposes his own fieldwork in Accra 50 years ago to a photographic essay on metal-workers in Kumasi today. Suame Magazine was a colonial armory, subsequently a corporate enterprise, and now home to 200,000 informal workers facing the contemporary challenges posed by the world economy to Ghana today. The two situations are strikingly different, being half a century and two major cities apart, but they share a resilient informal economy.

Spring 2014 Vol. 5.1

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Drones: A History from the British Middle East

Priya Satia
Stanford University

This article offers a history of drones grounded in the British use of aerial control in the Middle East and Afghanistan before World War II, rather than in the history of technology. Such a history promises a better understanding of the drone strategy’s likelihood of success because it shows how history, memory, and politics have shaped both the use of aerial control and its reception. Specific cultural and political assumptions first underwrote the invention of aerial control in the Middle East and continue to guide the use of drones in the region today. Our focus on remote piloting as the most controversial aspect of drone use has distracted us from these critical continuities with earlier uses of air power.

Beyond Bounds: Morocco's Rif War and the Limits of International Law

Anna Chotzen
Independent Researcher

This paper examines the failure of international humanitarian law to sufficiently regulate the use of advanced military technologies, specifically in conflicts between sovereign and non-sovereign actors. This failure is twofold. First, the regulation of weapons consistently lags behind their development and use. Second, international humanitarian law generally excludes non-sovereign actors from its jurisdiction. Juxtaposing the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol with the contemporaneous Moroccan Rif War reveals loopholes in international humanitarian law that enable major powers to enjoy unrestricted use of advanced military technologies toward imperial ends. This paper contends that the failure to regulate chemical warfare in the 1920s has significant parallels with the nebulous legal status of drone warfare today.

Introduction to the Photo Essay

Nicolas Guilhot
New York University

Executive editor Nicolas Guilhot introduces a collection of drone photographs by Trevor Paglen.

Photo Essay

Trevor Paglen
Independent Photographer

In this untitled series of drone photographs, Trevor Paglen invites us to ponder the security state from within a horizon of angst.

The Antinomies of Cosmopolitan Reason

Olivier Remaud
École des hautes études en sciences sociales

Today, cosmopolitanism sometimes means one thing and sometimes the opposite. I distinguish between three antinomies in contemporary debates: the antinomy of independence, the antinomy of solidarity, and the antinomy of circulation. My thesis is that cosmopolitanism distinguishes a relationship to humanity that starts with its concrete images, its dramaturgical codes, and with the practical margins of maneuver that stem from an overwhelming or transient sentiment of distanciation from the world.

Democracy, Give or Take?

Stephanie DeGooyer
Willamette University

In 2007, the King of Bhutan “gave” democracy to his people. Using this story as a point of departure, this article interrogates the complicated humanitarian notion of democracy as a gift in thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Claude Lefort, and Jacques Rancière. After bringing out the paradoxes in the King of Bhutan’s abdication, I speculate to what degree a protest against the Bhutanese state might model a new formulation of democracy, one that cannot be reduced to a consensualist scheme of sovereign sacrifice. While I conclude that we cannot fully abandon an economy of rights as “giving and taking,” a new discussion of the rhetorical structure of rights emerges.

“Transforming the Nature of the Struggle”:
An Interview with James C. Scott

(Humanity co-editors Nils Gilman and Nicolas Guilhot talked with Yale anthropologist James C. Scott on March 18, 2013.)

In this interview, Yale political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott talks about the evolution of his work on the state from the perspective of those who try to avoid it. The author of Weapons of the WeakSeeing like a State, and The Art of Not Being Governed—to cite some of Scott’s major books—discusses the major intellectual influences on his work, from Pierre Clastres to Ernest Gellner, his views of the mainstream sociology of the state, and what distinguishes his work from subaltern studies, as well as the contemporary forms that the refusal of state government can take. In discussing his work, Scott also provides a window onto a personal and intellectual voyage that has led him to develop a unique view of modernity and social development.

The Tactics and Ethics of Humanitarianism

Alberto Toscano
University of London

This review article explores the incisive critiques of contemporary humanitarianism advanced in Meister’s After Evil and Weizman’s The Least of All Possible Evils. Read jointly, the two books allow us to move beyond generic invocations of ethics and liberal visions of international law, in order to explore deeply problematic dimensions of the politics of human rights. Meister’s analysis of “human rights discourse” reveals a technology of time that infinitely postpones justice in the name of a pacifying transition, while Weizman’s chronicling of the spatial strategies of humanitarianism shows us how the calculated lessening of evil is one of foremost figures of neo-colonial and neo-imperial violence today.

On Narrative and Human Rights

James Dawes
Macalester College

Samantha Gupta
Harvard Law (J.D. candidate)

How does narrative affect, and how is it affected by, the development and promotion of human rights? This article analyzes three schools of thought: (1) sympathetic narratives have, over significant arcs of time, cultivated our sensibilities, expanded our range of felt moral responsibility, and fundamentally altered the social function of empathy; (2) sympathetic narratives fail to promote human dignity because they allow the experience of emotional response to substitute for the experience of moral responsibility; and (3) neither of these general claims is useful; instead we should track the cultural functions of particular narrative forms in specific legal/organizational contexts.