Human Rights RIP: Human Rights Literacies—Critique and Possibilities

  • Liam GearonEmail author
Part of the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Rights book series (CHREN, volume 2)


This chapter provides an analytical-structural assessment of the critiques of and possibilities for human rights literacies. Detailing the originating, that is historical-political impulse of human rights as a history of conflict and war, which means always and everywhere the spilling of human blood, the chapter argues that human rights literacies (as voices of both commentary and engagement) are here torn and thus divided. On the one hand, human rights literacies are aligned with and directed to conformity with powerful hegemonies of international law and polity (the United Nations, nation States) which promote human rights as an ethical-legal standard, a global moral compass. On the other hand, human rights literacies are aligned with and impelled to rebellion against hegemonic global governance through multifocal, discordant, dissonant, and dissatisfied voices of resistance. These latter voices of resistance are motivated by a sense of injustice drawn from witness to radical discrepancy between promised (or hoped for) human rights ideals and the direct experiences of human rights realities in personal-societal context. The chapter assesses present attempts to locate alternative epistemological, methodological and ontological positionings which seek resolution in such binaries of impasse through models of thought and action which are postmodern, post-structural, post-colonial, a moving beyond Western-derived liberal humanism, which is ‘posthuman’. It is questioned here whether the post-Enlightenment, ‘posthuman’ approach argued for in this volume is a path to peace or further discord. Reviewing current discussions through re-reading the opening lines of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reasoning, it is argued that the critics of Enlightenment values (postmodern, post-structural, post-colonial, ‘posthuman’) have actually much in common with those originating post-transcendental, that is Kantian, categorical moral imperatives. These latter inner moral convictions are the legal foundations of human rights. Despite great differences in ethical, moral and political stance situatedness, inner moral conviction, as a reading of Kant and this volume shows, unites liberal, humanistic Enlightenment morality and its post-Enlightenment, postmodern, post-structural, post-colonial, posthuman’ critics. By a further reading of Kant, we see seemingly opposed groupings share also a common existential limit, or end, which is death itself, and a cosmology which transcends or at least cosmologically contextualises the earthly concerns of human rights, one which enlivens not yet, further fragments an already factionalised humanity.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harris Manchester College, University of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of EducationUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Newcastle UniversityCallaghanAustralia

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