[SydPhil] UNSW seminar next Tuesday: Jessica Whyte, "Humanising Militarism: On the Tactical Polyvalence of Human Rights Discourses"

Joanne Faulkner j.faulkner at unsw.edu.au
Tue Jun 4 17:24:57 AEST 2013

Date:               Tuesday 11 June
Time:              1 p.m.
Venue:           Morven Brown 310, University of NSW (map reference C20: (1.7MB)<http://www.facilities.unsw.edu.au/Maps/pdf/kensington.pdf>)

Dr Jessica Whyte (University of Western Sydney)

Humanising Militarism: On the Tactical Polyvalence of Human Rights Discourses

In the lead-up to the Chicago NATO summit in May, Amnesty International found itself embroiled in a controversy that burst and ricocheted across social media like a cluster bomb. As NATO leaders and anti-war protestors prepared to converge on the city, its bus shelters displayed striking posters of Afghan women shielding young children in the draping fabric of their burqas. The headline, ‘Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan’ was the standard fare one would expect from a human rights organisation like Amnesty International. The controversy arose from the bold message addressed to those who have been occupying Afghanistan for more than a decade: “NATO: Keep the Progress Going!” For many, this message was a shocking one coming from a human rights organization that is renowned for its work in documenting human rights violations produced by wars, rather than for supporting those who wage them. And yet, for those who have followed the trajectory of the politics of human rights that Amnesty spearheaded, the appearance of these posters was not so surprising. As the historian Samuel Moyn has noted, while groups like Amnesty formulated a new politics of human rights that trades on a moral transcendence of politics, this new politics has since become a central to the framework of global governance. This paper considers this transformation in light of what Michel Foucault termed the “tactical polyvalence of discourses.” Foucault famously warned that we should not imagine the world as divided into dominant and dominated discourses, but instead recognize the extent to which discourses are enmeshed in multiple and diverse strategies of power. Significantly, he suggested that identical formulas can be used for contrary objectives, and that the same discourse can circulate from one strategy to an opposing one without changing its form. “Discourses,” he argued, “are not once and for all subservient to power or raised up against it, any more than silences are.” That discourses can be used for opposing strategies—to contest or to consolidate state power for instance—does not mean, however, that their tactical polyvalence is infinite at any particular time. This paper traces the migration of human rights discourses from their original role in contesting state power to a central place in the legitimating strategies of state militarism, and critically examines the new humanitarian militarism that results from it.

Jess Whyte is a Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney. She has published widely on theories of sovereignty and biopolitics, critical legal theory, critiques of human rights and contemporary continental philosophy. Her current research is on the emergence of the “right to intervene” in the practices of the new activist humanitarian NGOs of the 1970s, and its transformation into a legitimising discourse for state militarism. Her book, Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben, will be published by SUNY in 2013.

Dr Joanne Faulkner, j.faulkner at unsw.edu.au
School of Humanities

Dr Joanne Faulkner
ARC DECRA Research Fellow
School of Humanities
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Room 338, Morven Brown Building
University of New South Wales
Kensington, NSW 2052

j.faulkner at unsw.edu.au
+61 2 9385 2287


Co-Government/Institutional Representative, Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy: http://www.ascp.org.au

Branch Vice-President, UNSW Branch of the NTEU, National Tertiary Education Industry Union: http://www.nteu.edu.au
NTEU Office Tel: +61 2 9385 2479, email: nteu at unsw.edu.au
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