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Costas Douzinas: The Paradoxes of Human Rights

The absence of appeals to human rights in recent resistances around the world give us an opportunity to revisit their theoretical and political premises. Human rights are perhaps the most important liberal institution but liberal philosophy has failed badly in its treatment. Two hundred years of social theory are absent and, as a result, jurisprudence returns to the 18th century and updates the social contract with ‘original positions’ and ‘veils of ignorance’, the categorical imperative with ‘right answers’, ‘ideal speech’ situations and fundamental discourse principles.

The mainstreaming of human rights coincided with the emergence of what sociologists have called globalisation, economists neo-liberalism and political philosophers post-democratic governance. Is there a link between recent moralism, aggressive capitalism and bio-political governmentality? This talk presents an alternative approach to human rights built over a long period of campaigning and scholarship in a number of books.  It follows the insight that the term human rights with its symbolic capital has been co-opted to a large number of relatively independent discourses, practices, institutions and campaigns. As a result no global ‘theory’ of rights exists or can be created. Different disciplinary approaches and theoretical perspectives are therefore necessary. The talk will offer a short history of humanity and brief political, legal, philosophical, economic and psychoanalytical parts presenting a radical alternative.


Australian Catholic University
Tenison Woods House
Level 16
8-20 Napier Street
North Sydney

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