Rethinking Rights

Presenter/Author Information

Geoff Dancy, Tulane University of Louisiana

Location

University of Dayton

Start Date

10-2-2015 2:15 PM

End Date

10-2-2015 3:45 PM

Abstract

Human rights activists have often been criticized by political scientists for being “principled” rather than “pragmatic” actors. Rarely, though, is this criticism accompanied by a discussion of what pragmatism means, or what pragmatic action looks like. In this article, I conceptually trace and define three aspects of pragmatism: philosophical, methodological, and political. I then consider how these aspects of pragmatist thought can be applied in the world of human rights activism.

Among other things, I argue that pragmatic activism should remain flexible about the foundations of human rights ideals, that it should accept and even encourage local bad-mouthing of global organizations, that it should embrace imperfect vernacularization of rights laws, that it should endorse activism through trial and error, and that it should move away from linking impact evaluation to funding. The paper then argues through examples that many human rights activists are already pragmatic political actors. The conclusion of this analysis is that the “pragmatist” critique deployed against human rights activists is at minimum underdeveloped, and at maximum coded discourse harboring conservative, anti-rights positions.

Comments

This biennial conference provides a unique space for scholars, practitioners and advocates to engage in collaboration, dialogue and critical analysis of human rights advocacy — locally and globally. Learn more about the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton >>>.

 
Oct 2nd, 2:15 PM Oct 2nd, 3:45 PM

To Err is Human Rights: Toward a Pragmatist Activism (abstract)

University of Dayton

Human rights activists have often been criticized by political scientists for being “principled” rather than “pragmatic” actors. Rarely, though, is this criticism accompanied by a discussion of what pragmatism means, or what pragmatic action looks like. In this article, I conceptually trace and define three aspects of pragmatism: philosophical, methodological, and political. I then consider how these aspects of pragmatist thought can be applied in the world of human rights activism.

Among other things, I argue that pragmatic activism should remain flexible about the foundations of human rights ideals, that it should accept and even encourage local bad-mouthing of global organizations, that it should embrace imperfect vernacularization of rights laws, that it should endorse activism through trial and error, and that it should move away from linking impact evaluation to funding. The paper then argues through examples that many human rights activists are already pragmatic political actors. The conclusion of this analysis is that the “pragmatist” critique deployed against human rights activists is at minimum underdeveloped, and at maximum coded discourse harboring conservative, anti-rights positions.