Project

Reinventing Human Rights

Goal: A culmination of over fifteen years of research and writing on human rights as a “key mode of contemporary world-making” that proposes a radically reimagined account of human rights in light of the most pressing contemporary problems, including climate change, the rise of nationalism, and the fracture of supranational bodies such as the European Union.

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Mark Goodale
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Chapter for international conference (University of Lausanne, June 6 - 10, 2022) and edited volume entitled "After Law: Mobilization, Injustice, and Confrontation in the Post-Juristocratic Transition" (M. Goodale and Olaf Zenker, eds.)
Mark Goodale
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Table of contents, front matter, Preface, and Chapters 1 and 8 of Reinventing Human Rights
Mark Goodale
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Forthcoming in Law & Social Inquiry (2023) special issue entitled "Measures of Justice: A Symposium in Honor of Sally Engle Merry," edited by Peter Dixon, Pamina Firchow, and Fiorella Vera-Adrianzen
Mark Goodale
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This pioneering volume explores the long-neglected history of social rights, from the Middle Ages to the present. It debunks the myth that social rights are 'second-generation rights' – rights that appeared after World War II as additions to a rights corpus stretching back to the Enlightenment. Not only do social rights stretch back that far; they arguably pre-date the Enlightenment. In tracing their long history across various global contexts, this volume reveals how debates over social rights have often turned on deeper struggles over social obligation – over determining who owes what to whom, morally and legally. In the modern period, these struggles have been intertwined with questions of freedom, democracy, equality and dignity. Many factors have shaped the history of social rights, from class, gender and race to religion, empire and capitalism. With incomparable chronological depth, geographical breadth and conceptual nuance, Social Rights and the Politics of Obligation in History sets an agenda for future histories of human rights.
Mark Goodale
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"Reinventing Human Rights is a major original statement that transcends old debates and opens tremendous new possibilities. Mark Goodale's ambitious, intrepid move is to neither embrace nor vilify human rights but to demand a new vision of them, for a translocal and transformative politics in a diverse and unequal world." —Samuel Moyn, Yale University, author of Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World
"Reinventing Human Rights captures the emergent conditions we must address—whether we want to or not. Mark Goodale opens us up to settings often overlooked, but that increasingly signal their presence." —Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy
 
Mark Goodale
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Reinventing Human Rights offers a bold argument: that only a radically reformulated approach to human rights will prove adequate to confront and overcome the most consequential global problems. Charting a new path—away from either common critiques of the various incapacities of the international human rights system or advocacy for the status quo—Mark Goodale offers a new vision for human rights as a basis for collective action and moral renewal. Goodale’s proposition to reinvent human rights begins with a deep unpacking of human rights institutionalism and political theory in order to give priority to the “practice of human rights.” Rather than a priori claims to universality, he calls for a working theory of human rights defined by "translocality," a conceptual and ethical grounding that invites people to form alliances beyond established boundaries of community, nation, race, or religious identity. This book will serve as both a concrete blueprint and source of inspiration for those who want to preserve human rights as a key framework for confronting our manifold contemporary challenges, yet who agree—for many different reasons—that to do so requires radical reappraisal, imaginative reconceptualization, and a willingness to reinvent human rights as a cross-cultural foundation for both empowerment and social action.
Mark Goodale
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First two paragraphs of the conclusion:
"In her pioneering and indelible ethnographic study of human rights activism among Myanmar's LGBTQ community, the Singaporean sociolegal scholar Lynette Chua introduces us to two activists whose intertwined lives and experiences constitute the central thread of her study. Tun Tun is a former English literature student at Rangoon University, the son of a prominent family with deep connections to the country's military regime. During the pro-democracy movement, which began in 1988, Tun Tun joined the mobilizations against the ruling junta along with thousands of other protestors. After seeing friends killed by the police and army, Tun Tun became a student leader and target during the resulting repression; imprisoned for a brief time, he was only released through the intervention of his well-connected parents.
When the Orwellian 'State Law and Order Restoration Council,' known as the dreaded 'SLORC,' took over the task of pacifying the pro-democracy movement that was now led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the regime began a series of mass roundups, disappearances, and the widespread use of torture against activists. Tun Tun fled Yangon for the dense jungles along the Myanmar-Thailand border, where he took up arms as a rebel fighter within a wider guerrilla struggle against the military government. Tun Tun spent years engaging in dangerous and ultimately fruitless guerrilla attacks on government installations, strikes in which many comrades were killed or captured. By the mid-1990s, the military regime in Myanmar had destroyed most of the rebel camps and suppressed the pro-democracy movement. At the same time, Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy and human rights activism, became one of the world's most visible political prisoners during almost two decades of house arrest."
 
Mark Goodale
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From the introductory section of the chapter:
"And finally, despite the sudden shock to national economies caused by the historically unprecedented lockdowns during the 2020-2021 global Covid-19 pandemic, the global capitalist economy grew in the years after 2008 exactly in the way the G20 wanted: without systemic crises and without any serious signs of political resistance, even as the costs of ever-expanding economic growth became more and more 'brutal,' as the 'expulsions' of contemporary capitalism became more and more the inevitable consequence of the system's complexity. By 2021, the G20 club sat collectively at the controls of a global capitalist economy whose relentless inexorability had itself become almost as important as its socioeconomic and environmental ramifications. With two of the five remaining communist countries fully aligned with the political economic certainty of capitalism (China, Vietnam), the almost absurd global insignificance of the other three (Cuba, Laos, North Korea) merely reinforced the wider point: that despite the ultimately catastrophic implications, it had become 'easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.'
These, then, are the contours of what has become a G20 world. It is also the reason I reserved the most formidable chapter for last: in considering the prospects for a reinvented human rights, it is vitally important to be as clear-eyed as possible about the wider political economic and global context within—and against— which such a project must necessarily take shape. Although 'real utopian' thinking demands that we push against the boundaries of the both the imaginable and the possible, as Erik Olin Wright argued, it is also equally important to not lose touch with what Isaiah Berlin called the 'sense of reality.'"
 
Mark Goodale
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From the introductory section:
"As with other 'schemes to improve the human condition,' here, too, we see how doctrines of sovereignty, nationalism, and the 'rights of citizens' were originally conceived as progressive responses to existing problems: feudal and ecclesiastical governance, imperial domination, and political and social inequality. Yet over time, national identity and its political forms proved to be equally destructive, equally deleterious to the cause of long-terms global sustainability, albeit in different ways and justified on different ideological grounds. Without having to embrace the hollow pretensions of 'all members of the human family,' the orthodox formulation of existing human rights at least has the virtue of projecting beyond the boundaries of national belonging, even if this universal framing is contradicted or undermined by every other facet of the international system in which it is awkwardly rooted.
Nevertheless, in conceiving of human rights as a logic of translocal collective action, it is clear that the most imposing and difficult categories of difference are those defined and circumscribed by the state, regardless of which state (Country X, Country Y, etc.) or regardless of what kind of state (democratic, authoritarian, monarchical, theocratic, and so on). Yet almost all of the most urgent contemporary crises, those that demand immediate collective action on a large-scale, are caused by systems that transcend the boundaries of nation-states: climate change, economic inequality, resource depletion, environmental degradation. Although categories of difference shape conflict and thwart the expression of translocal solidarity and purposive action at much smaller scales, it is the national scale, defined and symbolized by the state, that remains the most structurally pernicious."
 
Mark Goodale
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From the introductory section (with footnotes omitted):
"This chapter examines these and related dilemmas in order to clarify and situate the place of the subject(s) within an alternative conception of human rights. In this, I am guided by the innovative analytical framework developed in a landmark volume, which draws a distinction between "who is the subject of human rights," "who is subject to human rights," and "how human rights make subjects." Yet with this framework as a point of departure, the chapter moves beyond the limits created by existing human rights, which necessarily define and give meaning to particular kinds of individual and collective subjects, while excluding others. In other words, if the proposal to reinvent human rights takes aim at the legal and political systems in which rights have traditionally been associated, seeking to formulate a conception of human rights anchored in social mobilization and translocal solidarity, the same is true of the subjects of this (re-)formulation. In a sense, this is the more difficult task: reimagining the subjects of human rights against a background in which the hegemonic "human" and the many alternatives coexist in unavoidable and unequal tension. What would it mean to abandon the enduring assumption that our biological identities as human beings should, a priori, shape and determine our social and moral identities, that the unifying fact of our biological sameness should serve as the model for our alliances, our collective projects, our ideologies?"
 
Mark Goodale
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From the chapter's introductory section:
"With the central insights of Berlin's value pluralism as a point of departure, this chapter examines these and other questions. In developing a reinvented human rights, the problems of pluralism, universalism, and cultural diversity must be addressed from a different perspective, in light of alternative assumptions about the relationship between cultural difference and the potential for translocal collective action. In the next section, I explore the problematic legacy of the 'universal' in universal human rights, the complicated historical, legal, and philosophical heritage of the Enlightenment in which claims of ahistorical, immanent, 'natural' rights became, over the succeeding centuries, quintessentially—and paradoxically—associated with a deeply contingent history and particular set of cultural values. As I argue, when 'universal human rights' becomes a 'universalism,' that is, a system that asserts its singular wisdom and synthetic truth, its relationship to the world's actually existing 'plurality of ideals' changes significantly: it becomes exclusionary and structurally hostile to any 'cultures and temperaments' that show any signs at all of divergence.
Next, the chapter returns to the fundamental importance of pluralism as the basis for a new conception of human rights. Here, the anthropology of human rights is critical, since researchers have documented the many ways in which existing human rights have been creatively adapted and even transformed through processes that Sally Engle Merry described as 'vernacularization.' Although the ethnographic record of cases of vernacularization around the world is largely based on the 'travel, translation, and transformation' of existing international human rights norms derived from international treaties and human rights policy documents, this research provides a window into how a pluralistic reorientation toward human rights might look in practice.
After establishing a framework in which pluralism replaces universalism as the conceptual grounding for a reinvented human rights, the chapter then considers the possibilities for mobilizing this alternative conception as a logic of collective action, something that raises new questions and dilemmas. If a reinvented human rights is to take shape primarily as a means of organizing and justifying collective action directed toward a more egalitarian, translocalized, ecologically durable world, then it is necessary to examine the question of collective action itself. What forms of actions should be encouraged? What forms discouraged or prohibited, even given the pluralistic basis of a reinvented human rights? How should collective action under the sign of a reinvented human rights be understood in relation to the long history of mobilization, some of it violent, in the name of human rights? And, how should the kinds—or, perhaps, categories—of translocal collective action I have in mind as flowing from a reinvented human rights be conceived in relation to existing movements for social and racial (though typically not economic) justice, which increasingly draw from a history of revolutionary confrontation? As will be seen, the question of the acceptable boundaries of resistance to the kinds of 'wickedly wrong' realities invoked by Berlin is fraught with uncertainty, especially in the absence of the kinds of orthodox justifications for revolutionary violence that structured so many past efforts to undue colonial and capitalist structures of power.
The chapter concludes by considering a reinvented human rights beyond questions of collective action and economic, political, and social change. Apart from its other objectives, explicit or implicit, the UDHR imagined what was meant to be a radically different framework through which people around the world would relate to each other. Given that widespread destruction, military conquest, and genocide were seen as the result of political divisions based on national and racial difference taken to their logical and murderous conclusion, the new world order would be organized on diametrically opposed grounds. Instead of categories of cultural, political, or national difference, the UDHR proposed a new category, the widest and most capacious possible: 'all members of the human family.' It would be this fictive kinship group—that is, all of us—that would be responsible for ensuring 'freedom, justice and peace in the world.'
Yet as the social basis for existing human rights, the 'human family' has proven over the succeeding decades to be barely recognizable, a figment of the early postwar moral imagination kept alive mostly by well-meaning human rights advocates and speechifying international diplomats. The universalist urge—like its cognate, the cosmopolitan—is an understandable and historically common response to the manifold evils of human difference translated into political, social, and ideological terms. But as a basis for actual belonging in a world of salutary diversity, it has proven to be no match for what it seeks to replace, with devastating consequences."
 
Mark Goodale
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From the Conclusion:
"By contrast, a reinvented human rights, which is formulated beyond the boundaries of law and political institutions, especially those circumscribed by the state, must be developed and diffused largely as an educational project. If a reinvented human rights is to take root as a translocal logic of collective action that demands the creation of enduring alliances that transcend categories of difference, this logic must be taught, explored, and modeled across widely diverse social, economic, and political contexts. The precedent I have in mind for such a widespread pedagogical shift, one that itself was closely linked to decolonization, is what the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire described as a 'pedagogy of the oppressed,' which proposes a radically critical approach to education that is based on practical experience, solidarity, re-humanization, co-teaching, and the capacity to act against structures of oppression.
Yet instead of a pedagogy of the oppressed, what I would propose is what might be called 'pedagogies of inclusion' as the educational grounding for the development of a reinvented human rights. Given that so many contemporary crises are either caused or worsened by categories of exclusion, even those animated by righteous demands for emancipatory change, the fundamental task will be to refashion our pedagogies so that we, collectively, yet plurally, will learn to privilege the value of translocality and understand the transformative implications of forging alliances beyond categories of difference in the renewed name of human rights. A pedagogical orientation, in this sense, to a reinvented human rights would give the broadest scope to the principle of decolonization, the imperative to both cast off the last vestiges of colonial ideology and replace it with a logic that foregrounds 'inclusive inclusion,' what Santos has described as 'non-abyssal thinking,' and the willingness to live in the present through the future, instead of through the past."
 
Mark Goodale
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From the introductory section of the chapter:
"In so doing, I will argue that the central place of law and legal institutions, including international criminals tribunals, has proven to be at best ambiguous for human rights, and, at worst, an institutional and normative straightjacket that has kept existing human rights tightly confined in ways that have dramatically limited their wider potential as a framework for emancipatory social and political action. At the same time, the close bundling of human rights with wider processes of neoliberal humanitarianism—which typically includes the Holy Trinity of democratization, market reforms, and rule of law initiatives—has meant that the relationship between human rights and law also has a geopolitical dimension, one that prominent postcolonial scholars have claimed privileges a 'state-centric enforcement paradigm' and a Euro-American model of the nation-state. Even in the aftermath of mass atrocity, the role of law and the 'enforcement paradigm' have long been shown to be highly problematic as the fundamental modes through which human rights are expressed and given practical force. If this is true, then a reinvented human rights must be conceptualized and developed largely beyond what the Irish legal scholar Kieran McEvoy has called the 'seduction of legalism,' even beyond a conventional understanding of the rule of law itself."
 
Mark Goodale
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From the end of the chapter:
"But can the world of the twenty-first century and beyond (if we collectively make it that far) afford economic and social systems that are anchored in these values, that are dominated by these ends of economic life? Knowing that vast levels of economic and social inequality are inevitable under conditions of neoliberal capitalism, it would be both ecologically catastrophic (as it now is) and morally suicidal not to see this global political economy for what it really is. And if it is true, as Herder once put it, that we live in a world that we ourselves create, who would want, in the end, to live in world in which the consequences of long-term, structural inequality are everywhere, and getting exponentially worse by the year? The answer unfortunately, for the moment, is many, perhaps a majority of people in the world, but only because another political economic world of our own creation is so difficult to conceive.
Nevertheless, as a start, a reinvented human rights should be taken as a framework for confronting the political economic world that we've created, for resisting and eventually rejecting its entire structure—ideological, distributional, relational—and through which we can visualize the contours of what we must create to replace it. A reinvented human rights, in other words, would demand that we finally listen to the admonitions of Rousseau, that we look to the future by reinterpreting the past, that we recognize the moral imposturings of capitalism for what they are, and that we pull up the stakes and fill in the ditches with courage, against all odds, before it's too late."
 
Mark Goodale
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Chapter 2 from Danielle Celermajer and Alexandre Lefebvre (eds.) The Subject of Human Rights, Stanford University Press (Stanford Studies in Human Rights).
This article considers the ways in which the social sciences can and should be a critical friend to the field of human rights. After surveying a selected number of recent interventions that depict the current status of human rights in quite different, even opposing, ways, the article concludes on a guardedly optimistic note: that well-meaning critiques of human rights can play an important role in reforming the broader human rights enterprise, but only if they are grounded in a realistic assessment of the ultimate limitations of human rights in the face of the most pressing and looming global challenges.
Mark Goodale
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From the end of the Introduction, describing the last chapter in the book:
"The book concludes with a final chapter that reflects on the ways in which a spirit of human rights can and must animate our collective responses to the fearsome 'reality of the world's problems,' a reality that is, as Moyn puts it, 'daunting in the extreme.' In the end, the alternative vision for human rights that this book synthesizes is one in which human rights becomes a polyvalent way of life for people, a basis for both empowerment and social action, and a means through which we demonstrate that we 'love life enough' to fight against the demoralizing notion that it can't be improved, if not for all, at least for many more."
 
Mark Goodale
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This column reflects on the continuing relevance of human rights in the 75th anniversary year of the founding of the United Nations. Despite the background circumstances, which included the catastrophe of a recent world war, ongoing colonial violence, and the dawn of the nuclear age, the new international body adopted the language and ideology of human rights as the moral foundation for the new world order. 75 years later, amidst a global pandemic, and in light of other pressing problems that include economic inequality, the return of pervasive ethno-nationalism, and the inevitable consequences of human-induced climate change, how well has this moral foundation stood the test of time?
Afterword to Julie Fraser and Brianne McGonigle (eds.) Intersections of Law and Culture at the International Criminal Court (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2020).
Mark Goodale
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Forthcoming invited article in the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights (Vol. 38, No.3, September 2020) that reflects on human rights and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Mark Goodale
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Chapter in Festschrift volume in honor of Sally Engle Merry, edited by Philip Alston.
Mark Goodale
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Gave a presentation on Reinventing Human Rights for the first time to the Australian Human Rights Institute, located at UNSW, with co-sponsorship by the Forced Migration Research Network. Thanks to everyone for a stimulating and inspiring event!
 
Mark Goodale
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I'm pleased to say that "Reinventing Human Rights" is now under contract with Stanford University Press. I'll be drafting the manuscript over the coming year (2019-2020) and will be sharing updates about its progress regularly.
 
Mark Goodale
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A culmination of over fifteen years of research and writing on human rights as a “key mode of contemporary world-making” that proposes a radically reimagined account of human rights in light of the most pressing contemporary problems, including climate change, the rise of nationalism, and the fracture of supranational bodies such as the European Union.