[SydPhil] Workshop: "Man, Human, Person: The subject of human rights" Wed October 28

Jessica Whyte J.Whyte at westernsydney.edu.au
Mon Oct 26 15:45:32 AEDT 2015

There are a few places still available for the following workshop. Please write to Jess Whyte if you'd like to attend: J.Whyte at westernsydney.edu.au

Man, Human, Person: The subject of human rights
Wed October 28 13.00-17.30

Boardroom, Female Orphan School, Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University

Organised by Jessica Whyte, Institute of Culture and Society, and School of Humanities and Communication Arts,
Western Sydney University

“What is at stake here”, the Lebanese UN delegate Charles Malik wrote of the attempt to formulate a Universal Declaration of Rights, “is the determination of the nature of man”. Malik, who drafted the Declaration’s preamble, noted that this posed three central questions: Is man an animal like any other? What is the place of the individual human person in modern society? And which is prior, the individual or the state? This workshop aims to take up Malik’s questions through an interrogation of the shifting subject of human rights.

Neither the ‘man’ of the ‘rights of man’, nor the ‘human’ of UDHR have ever coincided neatly with the human species. While modern rights declarations largely took for granted the exclusion of women, slaves and colonial subjects from the category “man”, those who formulated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights extended those rights to inhabitants of “non-self governing territories”, without challenging the fact that someone living under colonial rule patently lacked that “right to take part in the government of his country” that they nonetheless proclaimed as universal. While defenders of the universalising project of human rights argue that rights claims set off an uncontrollable cascade as the excluded are gradually incorporated in an ever-more complete universality, critics have challenged this teleological logic by highlighting the constitutive role of exclusion in bringing the human of human rights into being.

The “person”, on the other hand, can, from a legal perspective, be defined simply as a “rights and duties bearing unit”, as John Dewey put it—following Hegel for whom the person was the bearer of abstract and formal right. As Dewey noted however, diverse philosophical and psychological conceptions of human nature have historically informed and shaped this legal category, such that “the changing fortunes of the meanings of ‘person’ and ‘personality’” are bound up with social struggles. What Dewey’s pragmatist account of the person obscures is what contemporary historians have suggested is most critical to understanding its contemporary role in human rights discourses: its deeply Christian legacy. Today, foundational concepts of contemporary human rights politics – notably “dignity” and the “person” – which have commonly been depicted as the anchors of universalism, are in the process of being particularised, and cast as a specifically Christian, and conservative, inheritance.

An early, and now infamous, critic of the abstract person was Karl Marx, who charged political emancipation with reducing “man, on the one hand, to a member of civil society, to an egoistic, independent individual, and, on the other hand, to a citizen, a juridical person.” Although many contemporary critics of human rights still draw on Marx’s critique, the neoliberal subjection of the entirety of life to the imperatives of the market has eroded the split between an abstract realm of freedom and a material realm of domination on which it was premised. As the entrepreneur and the unit of human capital displace the man of exchange as the paradigmatic figure of homo œconomicus both the subject of rights and its critique become unstable.

This workshop will reflect on these developments in order to illuminate the contemporary figures of the subject of human rights.

To register, please email Jessica Whyte (J.Whyte at Westernsydney.edu.au<mailto:J.Whyte at Westernsydney.edu.au>). Places are strictly limited.

Abstracts and further information:


Wednesday 28 October 2015


Opening Remarks (Jessica Whyte, School of Humanities and Communication Arts and Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University).


Session 1: (Human) Subject: Personality, identity and subjective right.

Anna Yeatman (Whitlam Institute, Western Sydney University).
The question of the subject of right.

Miguel Vatter (Politics, University of New South Wales)
Subjective rights, the impersonal, and disembodiment.

Dany Celermajer (Sociology and Social Policy, Sydney University)
Troubling identities and the place of the given in human rights.



Afternoon Tea


Session 2: Polemic, ideology and resistance in the history of human rights

Clare Monagle (History, Macquarie University)
Christianity as an agent: The New Human Rights History

Alex Lefebvre (Government, and Philosophy, Sydney University.)
Human rights and an ethic of resistance: Roosevelt, Malik and the UDHR

Kiran Grewal (Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University).
Challenging the ‘expert’ in human rights: The human as polemical category



Dinner for Speakers, Inner West (venue tbc.)

Jessica Whyte | Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis
School of Humanities and Communication Arts
Parramatta Campus, EQ.1.31
P: +61 2 9685  9375 |
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