Reconstructing Human Rights is the title of my recent book (published by Oxford University Press), which offers a critical reconstruction of human rights, as both an ethical ideal and a political practice.
We live in a human-rights world. The language of human-rights claims and numerous human-rights institutions shape almost all aspects of our political lives, yet we struggle to know how to judge this development. Scholars give us good reason to be both supportive and sceptical of the universal claims that human rights enable, alternatively suggesting that they are pillars of cross-cultural understanding of justice or the ideological justification of a violent and exclusionary global order. All too often, however, our evaluations of our human-rights world are not based on sustained consideration of their complex, ambiguous and often contradictory consequences.
I began with a critique conventional ethical justifications of human rights and the role these play in legitimating political authority through a quest for certainty. I then go on to argue that the plurality and politicised content of human rights cannot be eliminated and that we need to reconstruct the relationship between ethics and politics through an engagement with pragmatist and pluralist ethical and political theory.
Reconstructing Human Rights argues that human rights are only as good as the ends they help us realise. We must attend to what ethical principles actually do in the world to know their value. So, for human rights we need to consider how the identity of humanity and the concept of rights shape our thinking, structure our political activity and contribute to social change. The resulting view of human rights is situated and agonistic, conceptualising the claiming of human rights as a political act that makes demands on the social order in the name of a particular and situated ethical ideal. Rather than seeing the political act of claiming rights as undermining human rights as universal principles, the political act becomes essential to ethics as such.
Reconstructing Human Rights defends human rights as a tool that should enable us to challenge political authority and established constellations of political membership by making new claims possible. Human rights mobilise the identity of humanity to make demands upon the terms of legitimate authority and challenges established political memberships. In this work, it is argued that this tool should be guided by a democratising ethos in pursuit of that enables claims for more democratic forms of politics and more inclusive political communities.
For further work on this project please see:
Reconstructing Human Rights: A Pragmatist and Pluralist Inquiry in Global Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016).
‘Towards a Politics for Human Rights: Ambiguous Humanity and Democratising Rights,’ Philosophy and Social Criticism, Volume 39, Issue 9 (2013), 935-961. (Open access version here)
‘Rereading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Plurality and Contestation, not Consensus,’ Journal of Human Rights, Volume 12, Issue 2 (2013), 217-241. (Open access version here)
‘Philosophers, Activists, and Radicals: a story of human rights and other scandals’ (with Marta Iñiguez de Heredia), Human Rights Review, Volume 12, Issue 2 (2011), 191-220. (Open access version here)
‘Human Rights as Crisis Morality – A Reply to Anthony Langlois,’ The Disorder of Things, 29 August 2011.
‘What We (Should Have) Talked About at ISA 2011: The Politics of Humanity and The Ambiguous History of Human Rights,’ The Disorder of Things, 21 April 2011. (Parts 2 & 3 can be found here and here)