2018-19 Pembroke Seminar

2018-19 Pembroke Research Seminar
What Are (Human) Rights?
Imperial Origins, Curatorial Practices and Non-Imperial Ground 
Seminar Leader:  Ariella Azoulay
Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Comparative Literature

 “750,000,000 clamoring for human rights” (DuBois in 1945)

From its inception the discourse of human rights was intimately linked with curatorial practices, which were used to intervene in the material worlds of other people and affect their ways of handling objects, organizing their shared spaces and exercising their rights. Looking at the ways these two technologies were linked and entangled would enables a shift from the (visual or textual) representation of human rights to their political ontology and ask what are rights, are they divisible or shared, who is entitled to grant them and receive them? Deviating from a tradition that studies human rights as a distinct discourse whose origins are Europeans, and from the tradition that limits the study of curatorial practices to designated indoor spaces, the seminar will develop a wide historical perspective and pose a set of ontological and political questions. We will look beyond the usual canonical texts, treatises and declarations of rights (which have been recognized as foundational for this discourse and its histories) and study different types of rights claims (strikes, sit ins, squatting, occupation of public spaces etc), and different thinkers, many of whom have not been considered part of this discourse. We will collaborate in developing a non-imperial approach to the question of rights, one that looks at rights in the context of worlds made of objects. Particular attention will be given to the ways in which these two technologies were linked, used and disseminated at the end of WWII for preempting and repressing claims for reparations, indemnification, compensation, and equality, claims which were – and continue to be - voiced by people whose territories were invaded, colonized, and plundered.