Human Rights: Contesting the Displacement Thesis
Forthcoming in Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (2018)
18 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2017 Last revised: 7 May 2018
Date Written: November 5, 2017
From within the camp of broadly left wing or progressive critiques of human rights, one of the key objections that has emerged is what we can refer to as the displacement thesis. In sum, this critique maintains that reliance on the language of human rights by movements for radical social change is problematic, because it tends to crowd out (or displace) other, potentially emancipatory, languages, and as a consequence distract attention from broader, structural causes of injustice and oppression. It is argued here that while this argument is intuitively appealing, it falls short for a variety of reasons. There are, to be sure, many problems with human rights, but the mobilisation of rights language can nonetheless make an important contribution to movements for radical social change, without displacing or precluding the mobilisation of other emancipatory languages, and the challenging of deeper, structural causes of injustice.
Keywords: human rights, displacement thesis, critique, struggle, emancipatory politics
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