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Accepted Paper:

Who is a Human Rights Defender? An Appraisal of Labour Practices in the Human Rights Economy  
Richard Georgi (University of Gothenburg)

Paper Short Abstract:

Who is a human rights defender (HRD)? I trace what I call a definition dilemma between opening the concept of HRD to diverse types of subjectivity to reckon with past exclusions, and the need to define conceptual boundaries to protect against abuse and increase the robustness of protection regimes.

Paper Abstract:

The last decades have witnessed a conceptual opening of human rights practices, hitherto prerogative of experts in international law, towards a multiplicity of subjectivities that enact new imaginaries. This afforded human rights scholarship addresses subaltern histories and reckons with past exclusions. Conversely, however, critical deconstruction and empirical diversification have aggravated the seemingly basic, yet thorny quest for defining, or delimiting, human rights activism. This not only poses a challenge to research but, foremost, opens human rights concepts to abuse and undermines protection regimes.

This presentation is based on a provocative think piece I drafted for the Journal of Human Rights Practice. Based on more than a decade of own activism and (ethnographic) research on human rights activism, in Mexico, Kenya, and Colombia, I first trace the definition dilemma as it emerges from emancipatory genealogies in human rights practice scholarship that move away from elitist conceptions of human rights. I am not pretending to solve this dilemma; rather, in a second step, I offer ‘metaphorical dislocations’ changing the terms of discussion to elicit new avenues of thought. Taking common allusions to the economy of human rights as my point of departure, I pursue Marx’s critique of political economy as a metaphor to re-centre human rights activism as a labour practice that: a) produces discursive value qua rendering violence legible and b) transforms activist cultures socio-politically. I contend that critical discursive-economic thought can help us delineate the specific subjectivity of activists from the perspective of fetishism, labour and value, and overdetermined representation.

Panel P238
Becoming/ being an activist: reflections on a key political subjectivity of late capitalism
  Session 1 Friday 26 July, 2024, -