Winter 2018 Vol. 8.3
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Human rights are often considered a twentieth-century phenomenon, yet the concept has its ideological foundations in earlier social movements. During the nineteenth century, human rights periodically emerged as a contested concept, their meaning in constant flux. When the rhetoric of human rights did appear, it was at important junctures between the antislavery and women’s rights movements. Early allusions were shaped by a tradition of humanitarianism and paternalism, relying on intertextual references and authenticating documents to validate this fledgling idea. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, women’s suffragists attributed a far more recognizable, universalistic meaning to the concept of human rights.
Humanitarianism Was Never Enough: Dorothy Thompson, Sands of Sorrow, and the Arabs of Palestine
pp. 441 - 465
The ambivalent legacies of postwar humanitarianism have been the subject of much historical critique over the past twenty years. This article discusses the politics of humanitarian compassion through the writing and advocacy of the campaigning journalist and broadcaster, Dorothy Thompson. One of the first to advocate for the rights of Jewish refugees in the late 1930s, Thompson scandalized U.S. opinion when she campaigned for Palestinian refugees in the late 1940s and 1950s. The refugees, she argued, were not simply one humanitarian crisis among many, but the consequence of the failure of the postwar human rights regime to deal either with the violence of state formation or the persistence of nationalism.
Life, Story, Violence: What Narrative Doesn’t Say
pp. 467 - 483
Joseph R. Slaughter
On Vernacular Rights Cultures and the Political Imaginaries of Haq
pp. 485 - 509
In this article, I track the deployment of rights in the vernacular across different subaltern citizen mobilizations in Southern Asia. In order to conceptually capture the ethical dynamism, ideational energy and intellectual innovativeness of this language of rights, I argue that we need yet more complex and different kinds of thinking. I propose the framework of vernacular rights cultures to theorise and empirically document rights politics in ‘most of the world’. Studying vernacular rights cultures, I argue in this article, involves documenting and analyzing the literal and conceptual languages of rights/human rights and the political imaginaries these embody while also paying attention to the justificatory premises that animate and activate the stakes and struggles of rights mobilizations.
Dossier on Contemporary Refugee Timespaces
pp. 511 - 517
On Humanitarian Architecture: A Story of a Border
pp. 519 - 521
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Beyond Europe, Borders Adrift
pp. 523 - 525
The Human Costs of Outsourcing Deportation
pp. 527 - 529
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement Home Raid before Church
pp. 531 - 533
Refusing Refuge at the United States–Mexico Border
pp. 535 - 537
pp. 539 - 541
Sharif M. Youssef
The Logic of Analogy: Slavery and the Contemporary Refugee
pp. 543 - 546
The Innocents: Reading Refugees in National Culture and Diasporic Literatures
pp. 547 - 549
Anglophone Novels from the Tibetan Diaspora: Negotiations of Empire, Nation, and Culture
pp. 551 - 554
Alexandra S. Moore
Haitian Refugees and the Guantánamo Public Memory Project
pp. 555 - 557
War and the Historical Sociology of Human Rights: Violent Entanglements
pp. 559 - 578
pp. 579 - 582
Spring 2017 Vol. 8.1
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During 1947 and 1948, UNESCO made a remarkable, and largely misunderstood, effort to directly shape the content of what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Although these efforts failed in their objectives, the work of UNESCO during this short period of time (about a year and a half) has been invested with a range of meanings and interpretations that go well beyond the historical record. This article examines this historical process based on new archival research. As the first in a series of publications concerning UNESCO and the prehistory of human rights, the article provides new information about this critical period in the history of human rights.
Analysts often consider the postcolonial Sudanese state to be governed by an elite primarily interested in private accumulation rather than national development. This article demonstrates the existence of distinct development projects in postcolonial Sudanese history, which wax and wane. Developmental states can be distinguished from non-developmental states by whether political and policymaking elites are able to assert “the right to policymaking discretion.” The analysis of whether this discretion is present depends upon close archival readings of policy debates. Reading the pages of the Sudanese Economists it is possible to see the waning of the first Sudanese developmental state as the discourses of austerity and transparency replace those of growth and investment.
Iris Chang’s 1997 work The Rape of Nanking precipitated a wave of critiques and reappraisals in Asia and abroad. While held in low-esteem by most historians and academics, it holds greater sway amongst broader reading publics as one of the most widely read popular histories on the subject. The impact of Chang’s book transcends the ongoing and heated debates about the Nanking Massacre itself, and connects with related debates concerning history, memory, and human rights in the Asia-Pacific. The article examines some of these related historical debates appearing in the late nineteen-nineties and shows how The Rape of Nanking has stimulated public interest and recognition of past human rights violations including, but not limited to the atrocities of Nanking.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the American government launched the War on Terror in order to impose the prosecution of its foreign policy. From the onset, the War on Terror’s powerful visual and verbal narratives made it almost impossible to suggest alternative framings. This article questions how lawyers, human rights investigators, and journalists have worked within and with these frames in order either to challenge them or to document them. This issue is important, not only because it is doubtful that they will lose their salience in the future, but also because the work of these individuals tells us how such narratives have been affecting our very own perceptions of a reality.
The US military detention and interrogation operation, Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantánamo has received particular attention by lawyers, human rights investigators, and journalists wanting to document human rights abuses as well as the frames of war which were designed by the American government in the aftermath of 9/11. This article is a dialogue between photographer Debi Cornwall and human right activist Larry Siems, who both challenged these frames of war, ultimately laying bare their deployment, forceful imposition and shameful normalization.
This photo essay is excerpted from Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play, an investigation of daily life for both prisoners and guards at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where nobody has chosen to live, and where photographs of faces are forbidden by military regulation. Since the first “War on Terror” prisons opened on January 11, 2002, 780 men have been held at “Gitmo,” the vast majority without charge or trial of any kind. As of autumn 2016, most have been cleared and released: 61 men remain held, including 33 cleared for transfer, 10 convicted in military commissions, and 28 designated as “forever prisoners,” destined to remain held indefinitely. Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play is one chapter in a larger body of work investigating the peculiarly American normalization of offshore extrajudicial detention.
Dossier on Gunnar Myrdal
Despite his centrality to mid-century international politics, Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal has seldom been the object of sustained historical attention beyond his native Sweden and the United States. This dossier attempts to offer a fuller picture of his career through reconsiderations of most of his major works, from his early writings on Swedish population policy to his last works on the problem of global poverty. In doing so, it not only contributes to these national historiographies on Myrdal, but also attempts to place him, in all of his guises, back into conversations on the intertwined histories of national welfarism, international organizations, and social science in the mid-twentieth century.
Alva and Gunnar Myrdal's Kris i Befolkningsfragen (1934) has led a double life, long celebrated as the intellectual blueprint of the Sweden’s cradle-to-grave welfare state, and more recently decried for its advocacy of sterilization of the “feeble-minded." This paper situates Kris in its political moment in 1930s Sweden, proposing that the Myrdals' arguments in favor of sterilization were not rooted in deeply held convictions, but rather were a political tactic designed to neutralize and overcome conservative hostility to the institutionalization of social welfare provisions as a response to the perceived demographic crisis of the time.
In 1944, Gunnar Myrdal issued a warning to optimists, who expected the United States to shepherd the entire world into a stable and prosperous peacetime. Yet in Varning för fredsoptimism Myrdal not only warned of a recession but also suggested that Sweden and the United States could join hands in the spirit of “democratic internationalism.” In doing so, Myrdal navigated the path for a small, rich, old, and neutral state in the post-war world and argued that the United States would not succumb to the temptations of “great power imperialism.” Instead the United States could help to remake the world in Sweden’s image.
In the late 1930s, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned Gunnar Myrdal to direct a comprehensive survey of white-black relations in the United States, with the expectation that he would approach the topic “with an entirely fresh mind.” In selecting him, the foundation’s president had supposed that a social scientist from Sweden—a country he presumed to be ethnically homogeneous—would bring few assumptions to an investigation of American race relations. And it is true that Myrdal had little experience with the topic. However, his prior work as an economic theorist, population expert, and politician in Sweden informed his analysis in An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). In particular, it helped him define both his target audience and the extent of the policy program that he recommended.
Gunnar Myrdal’s An International Economy: Problems and Prospects (1956) was Myrdal’s most systematic account of the postwar international economic order. This essay argues that it should be read as a coming to terms with the failures of planning during the 1940s for an ambitious and redistributive postwar system of international economic governance. In his calls for a “welfare world,” Myrdal attempted to revive certain policy proposals that had been popular during the early years of the Second World War, but which had been pushed aside during the run-up to the Bretton Woods Conference and its aftermath.
This essay revisits Gunnar Myrdal’s Rich Lands and Poor (1957) with special attention to his concept of “welfare world.” The essay reassesses the circumstances of Myrdal’s turn to the scaling up of the welfare state to the world stage, examines how Myrdal defended that vision, and goes on to try to ponder some of the reasons it did not come to pass. Also discussed is how Myrdal thought about the problem to solve, concluding that he took national parity as a proxy for overall human betterment.
This article shows how Myrdal sought to build on the success of his An American Dilemma (1954) by showing American liberals that the conduct of Western states toward the developing postcolonial world was in conflict with their fundamental ideals. Judging by his contacts at Yale, Myrdal’s Beyond the Welfare State (1960) was aimed at an audience that, in the late 1950s, perceived America’s relationship to the postcolonial world to be at a critical juncture. Myrdal’s book offered them an attractive and reassuring, but ultimately unconvincing, narrative that reconciled the Western commitment to national welfare with international solidarity.
Gunnar Myrdal's 1968 Asian Drama represented the culmination of nearly a decade's research into independent India's social and economic development. Purporting to be a comparative study of Asian economic problems, Myrdal's three-volume investigation centers primarily around planning and agrarian reform in the countries of South Asia. Greatly anticipated by Indian planners, the enormous and prevaricating study urged a "big push" for and an "institutional approach" to development, considering the remaking of economic and social institutions in tandem. Asian Drama was widely panned by Indian audiences, yet its eschewal of prevailing developmental dogmas gives it enduring relevance fifty years on.
Gunnar Myrdal was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of the need for international redistribution, or what he termed “welfare world”. As Myrdal himself pointed out the western welfare state was itself often a barrier to such redistribution internationally. Myrdal eventually came to see the western, and specifically swedish welfare state as a model for more generous flows of international aid, but this on primarily humanitarian grounds. The political lessons of the social democratic model which lay behind this evocation of international ethics thus fell away in order to make room for a more politically-realistic argument in the liberal (American) world Myrdal liked above all to address himself to. In so doing Myrdal, to some extent despite himself, came to represent the wider shift in international development ethics under way from the 1970s: away from questions of structural reform and economic redistribution and towards the minimalist yet universal guarantees of a basic minimum of subsistence, from welfare world to global poverty in other words.
Winter 2016 Vol. 7.3
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Human rights are a complex concept with distinct parts, whose histories are often independent from one another. Histories of human rights are almost always partial histories, and we cannot reduce their history to that of one part. This article challenges one of the central tenets of the early-modern history of human rights, namely that it was the “discovery” of subjective rights in the late medieval period that was the critical move in the development of human rights. It examines in particular the work of Richard Tuck, and exposes his debt to the French legal historian Michel Villey and to Leo Strauss. In so doing, it disputes the existence of a “modern school” of natural law theory, and sketches an alternative history of natural rights, which passes from the Huguenot monarchomachs and the English Levellers to the American and French revolutionaries.
Through Jacques Derrida’s extended discussion in Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, Shakespeare’s Hamlet has become “an exemplary text for thinking together about the current state of the world” (Royle). This article concerns Shakespeare’s Hamlet alongside Milton’s Paradise Lost as texts central to writing the “literary history of the International.” Whereas Derrida and Marx placed Hamlet at the center of their influential international visions, this article argues that the role of republicanism in forging international solidarity from the seventeenth-century onwards suggests that any literary history of the International ought also to include that key republican touchstone, Milton’s Paradise Lost. Against current critical consensus, however, it also argues that Paradise Lost’s republican internationalism developed through Milton’s own reading of Hamlet, and that Shakespeare himself may have been Milton’s “old mole.”
Dossier on Humanitarianism in Refugee Camps
Maja Janmyr, Are J. Knudsen
Recent decades have seen a proliferation of refugee camps, and today the refugee camp is one of the most poignant manifestations of humanitarian space. This dossier furthers the emerging critique of the “humanitarian management” of refugees, arguing that the process of encampment offers a vantage point to study the institutionalization of humanitarian governance. To this end, this collection of articles theorizes camps as hybrid spaces of humanitarianism. The practice of encampment thus gives rise to hybrid forms of governance, plural camp trajectories and individual migrant careers.
What is a refugee camp? Existing definitions have focused on logics of power and institutions of governance. This article argues instead that refugee camps are best understood in relation to their purpose of containment. It posits ‘camps of containment’ as a specific form of encampment consisting of three primary categories: prisoner-of-war camps, internment camps and camps for forced migrants. This genealogy sheds new light on the origin of the refugee camp and reveals camps of containment to be an evolving politico-military strategy related to changing patterns of political conflict and to shifting anxieties about national security.
While the refugee camp has not been defined in international law, this article suggests that discussing the legality and legitimacy of these spaces is key to any understanding of what contemporary refugee camps are. It examines different legal registers that might be used to evaluate the legality or legitimacy of refugee camps and approaches refugees and camps from a critical legal perspective. The article argues that in the same way that the refugee camp label (often) falsely signalizes a human rights- and protection-oriented sanctuary from harm, the presence of humanitarian organizations may wrongfully legitimize the arbitrary detention of refugees.
This paper approaches Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya as a “warscape” and explores the role that multiple understandings and experiences with violence play in the everyday organization of the camp. The dynamics of war-related imageries and various forms of past, present and symbolic violence translate into power processes and forms of spatial and social ordering that are explored as processes of place making. Rather than seeing violence as something exceptional, this paper explores how over the years of its existence since 1992 the camp was shaped by the narratives, experiences and understandings of violence and rebel histories, and the associations between refugees and armed movements.
Following six decades of forced residential immobility, Lebanon is the quintessential example of long-term encampment of Palestinian refugees. The camp-based refugees have been subject to a double marginalisation that affects both their status as refugees and their residence. Due to their longevity, the forms of refuge have changed, amalgamated and proliferated over several decades to become transitional zones of emplacement. In order to theorize this transformation, this article employs the critical sociology of Loïc Wacquant and Michel Agier to analyze the urbanization and subsequent dissolution of the country’s transient refuges.
As a first part of this article, in order to attempt a genealogical reading of the current literature on camps, I outline three arguments which are central to the issues tackled by researchers these last decades, and which are the main themes of the controversies surrounding discourses and practices about camps: a securitarian argument, ahumanitarian argument, and an identity-based argument which first caught the attention of anthropologists when this new research highlighted issues such as the loss of identity or the anchoring of relationships and subjectivities. In the second part of the article, I draw the main practical and theoretical challenges for the future of encampments: camps as part of a marginal borderland at global scale, as the locus of an absolute and unknown “Other”, and as places of new forms of urbanity.
In Object Lessons, Nina Berman photographs trial evidence used in US cases of human trafficking where the perpetrators were convicted of their crimes. These object, including texts, are paired with landscapes showing locations of crimes scenes. The approach is unique in its study of the mind of the perpetrator rather than the body of the victim.
This commentary on Nina Berman’s series, “Object Lessons,” examines the photographer’s strategy of photographing trial evidence from cases of sexual slavery and human trafficking as a study in object relations.
Summer 2016 Vol. 7.2
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Wollstonecraft, Human Rights, and the Care of the Self
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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
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
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
New York University
Executive editor Nicolas Guilhot introduces a collection of drone photographs by Trevor Paglen.
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
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?
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 Weak, Seeing 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
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
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.