On the Human Rights Question
Forthcoming in Human Rights Quarterly (2018)
29 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2017 Last revised: 17 Nov 2020
Date Written: November 5, 2017
There is a marked disjuncture today between the generalised critique and rejection of human rights by many progressive and critical commentators, and the embrace of the language of human rights by a variety of movements around the world engaged in struggles for social change. This divide between critical theory and critical practice raises important questions about whether and how movements for fundamental social change should engage with human rights. In contrast to a number of well-established critical dismissals of rights, this article argues, from within the Marxist tradition, that human rights can, and in some cases should, be deployed by social movements in their campaigns. However, reaching this conclusion requires developing an understanding of human rights that gives primacy to social struggle and to a nuanced understanding of the contradictory nature of human rights.
Keywords: human rights, critique, Marxism, contradiction, struggle, social change
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