Is a global history of development possible?

This post first appeared at Small Precautions.   What would a fully integrated “global” history of development entail? It would require Considering all actors in the development process: from the subaltern “objects” of development at one end of the spectrum, to various NGOs and IFIs and transnational corporations in the middle layers, to state elites in the North at the other end – recognizing the politically negotiated nature of each project Looking across all geographies in which development has been deployed: including not just the Read More »

The Athenians No Longer Know the Megarians

This post originally appeared on Al-Jumhuriya. Deluge © Imranovi The following is a talk given by Kelly Grotke for Stanford University’s conference on the subject of ‘Cruelty’, in which the prominent academic examines friendship, universality, and cruelty between the European past and the Syrian present. States of Friendship Friendship, for Cicero, was a virtuous thing, sustained by love, respect, and sincerity – this is why “one does not live with a friend as one would with a dictator.”[2] Similarly, for Etienne la Boétie: “…a tyrant never either Read More »

Beyond Good Intentions: Responsible and Effective Advocacy in the Digital Age

This review essay will appear in Humanity volume 9, issue 1. Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism Alex de Waal, editor Zed Books, 2015 Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response Patrick Meier CRS Press, 2015 Dangerous Trade: Arms Exports, Human Rights, and International Reputation Jennifer Erickson Columbia University Press, 2015 On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake shook Haiti, leading to the collapse of much of its infrastructure, burying hundreds of thousands beneath the rubble. At a Read More »

Gunnar Myrdal in the Latest Issue of Humanity

This post originally appeared at HistPhil, where Maribel Morey is co-editor. She discusses the Gunnar Myrdal symposium featured in Humanity’s latest issue. Americans generally remember Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987) as the astute Swedish observer of American race relations who authored the monumental study of black Americans that had been commissioned and funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). Cataloguing the various ways that white Americans discriminated against black Americans, Myrdal argued in the two-volume manuscript that Read More »

A Progressive Defense of Originalism

In nominating Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, President Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge to nominate a person who followed in the tradition of “Originalism” espoused by Justice Antonin J. Scalia. In making this pledge, Mr. Trump affirmed the conventional association between an Originalist approach to legal interpretation and a well defined set of conservative political and social views. To be an Originalist, Trump implied and his supporters assumed, was to be anti-regulation, anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-immigrant, anti-minority rights; it was also to be Read More »

“Globalization,” what is it good for?

This piece has previously appeared in German translation in Heft 10 (Oktober 2016). When the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, it was not only historians who scurried in search of the lessons of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Nearly a decade later, as analysts of Britain’s departure from the EU diagnose the symptoms of an economic malaise called “globalization,” it is again worth considering what we can learn from the past. It might seem unimaginable—given the turn in present-day political rhetoric—but through the Read More »

Humanitarian Spaces: Three Concepts for a History (Part 3)

This is part three in a series. See here for parts one and two. Oath and language: In my third and final example, I come to probably the most important element in structuring humanitarian spaces: language. It is in language that the connection between the spheres of humanitarianism, power, and politics becomes clearest. Here, I will not look at the meanings of the words or programmes of humanitarians; I am interested in the function of humanitarian language within the political sphere. In his work on Read More »

Humanitarian Spaces: Three Concepts for a History (Part 2)

This is part two in a series. For part one, see here. Part three will follow tomorrow. Structuring knowledge: If the Maussian concept can help to see social spaces with dynamic and asymmetric power relations, theories developed by Foucault can sharpen the understanding of the institutionalization of knowledge as a strategy of governance. In the field of humanitarianism the example is the standardization and dissemination of knowledge.[1] Many books have been written on missions and operations, but little research has been done on the development Read More »

Humanitarian Spaces: Three Concepts for a History (Part 1)

This is the first post in a series of three. Parts two and three will be published on subsequent days. In his book Empire of Humanity, Michael Barnett outlines some of the strengths and contradictions of humanitarianism using the notion of “empires.” First, he applies this notion to the definition of humanitarianism: “What distinguishes humanitarianism from previous acts of compassion is that it is organized and part of governance, connects the immanent to the transcendent, and is directed at those in other lands.”[1] The question Read More »

Call for Applications: Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy

International Research Academy on the History of Global Humanitarianism Academy Leaders: Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz) Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz) Andrew Thompson (University of Exeter) in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva) and with support by the German Historical Institute London Venues: Leibniz Institute of European History, Mainz & Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva Dates: 10-21 July 2017 Deadline: 31 December 2016 Information at:, and The Read More »

Job Posting: Assistant Professor, Human Rights Institute and Department of History, University of Connecticut Job Posting Title: Assistant Professor, Human Rights Institute and Department of History The Human Rights Institute and the Department of History at the University of Connecticut invite applications for a tenure-track joint appointment in History and Human Rights at the assistant professor level beginning August 23, 2017.  The research and teaching responsibilities of the successful candidate will be situated in the Human Rights Institute and the History Department (the tenure home of the appointment), both of which have thriving research communities and strong undergraduate Read More »

“Yet there is a Need”: Human Rights as an Intellectual Practice (Part 2)

This paper was first given at the Stockholm Conference on Human Rights, May 26, 2015. This concludes the post that appeared yesterday. For most of the critiques of human rights, the tragic flaw in the entire system, the serpent in the garden of universal rights, is the state. In theory, the state has no role in determining human rights, which pertain to the species rather than the polis. Indeed, modern human rights—the UDHR version—were conceived as a way of protecting individuals, and the “intermediate institutions,” Read More »

“Yet there is a Need”: Human Rights as an Intellectual Practice (Part 1)

This paper was first given at the Stockholm Conference on Human Rights, May 26, 2015. The second part will appear tomorrow. Like others here, I received a very kind invitation to participate in this conference. The letter noted that the concept of human rights, once limited to cases of torture and slavery, had acquired a wider applicability, and was now deployed in a wide range of situations. The concept of species-specific rights had, this letter said, brought into focus “innumerable examples” of “violations” that otherwise Read More »

Theses on Humanitarianism and Human Rights

What follows is the rough draft of some thoughts on the topic prompted by an exciting upcoming conference at George Washington University. 1. The almost universal tendency is to conflate the two categories, and it is understandable that the minority and prophylactic response to this conflation has been to distinguish them for the sake of analytical clarity and historical propriety. Obviously, life is messy, and no set of distinctions is perfect, but it seems wiser to avoid conflation and to err on the side of Read More »

Response to the Commentators, Part Two

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. Once again let me express my gratitude to the commentators, most of who appear to agree with the overall argument, analysis and historiographical arc I have sketched out in these essays. That said, as previously noted, several contributors also see the need to reflect more deeply about the study of Read More »

Response to the Commentators, Part One

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. I would like begin by expressing my gratitude to the Humanity editorial collective, and especially to Nils Gilman and Sam Moyn, for providing me with the opportunity to publish these two pieces. I would also like to thank the commentators – Tom Robertson, Corinna Unger, Robert Packenham, David Ekbladh, Steve Read More »

Commentary on the Essay of Joseph Hodge

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. Joseph Hodge offers us a richly detailed analysis of the making of a new academic subfield, anthropological and historical studies of development. Students will be mining his footnotes for years to come, and they will appreciate the intelligent—and sometimes severe—critiques he presents of the literature whose influence he has made Read More »

Global and Usable Histories of Development

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. My sincere thanks to Dr. Hodge for producing this remarkable review essay. It brilliantly captures the simultaneous appeal and challenge of exploring the history of development. As Hodge shows, development has embodied both disruption and creativity, engaging a wide range of historical actors in both aspects of the work within Read More »

On Writing the Historiography of Development

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. In early 2002, amid the growing optimism surrounding the United States’ Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, I heard on the radio an U.S. official claim that the United States’ nation-building efforts should strive to transform Kabul into Zurich. The statement struck me as preposterous and perplexing. How would the United Read More »

The Stages of Development’s History?

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. I will admit surprise when asked to comment on a historiographical essay. These essays an interesting position in academic circles and do not usually rate debate. If we are frank, in the hierarchies we build in the historical profession they are not granted the esteem of articles grounded in primary Read More »

A Comment on Professor Hodge’s Articles

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. This is a very ambitious article in terms of themes, historical periods, world regions, and types of writings. Its overall theme is development, an extremely broad idea. (So far as I know, Hodge never defines it explicitly in abstract terms, although it appears he means by it progress in nation-states.) Read More »

Comment on Joseph Hodge, On the Historiography of Development (Part I and II)

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. In comparatively little time, the history of development has become a highly popular and equally populated subject of scholarly research. It is characterized by lively debates and a high number of publications of all genres, and it might well be considered one of the most productive fields of research in Read More »

Adding Environment to the Picture

This post is part of a roundtable discussion on two historiographic articles by Joseph Hodge published in recent issues of Humanity. For more about the roundtable and all currently available posts please see this page. Joe Hodge has done a great service with this insightful article. A good review should summarize, analyze, and situate existing literature but also point to new roads to walk down. This piece does exactly that. I find two of Hodge’s main points particularly important. The first is that “a more Read More »

Human Rights and the End of Status

When Solon gave Athens her laws, he developed egalitarian citizenship by democratizing practices hitherto reserved to nobility. His gesture to the intermediate classes laid the groundwork for Athenian democracy, and anticipated a period of classical splendor to boot. But the idea of group equality – for all its historical instructiveness for understanding the legal position of individuals in society – has received surprisingly little attention in attempts to grasp the foundations of contemporary human rights law. This is especially puzzling considering that the recognition of Read More »

Cleaning up the “dirty little secrets” of research ethics: Reflections from the International Studies Association 2016

This blog is a follow-up to the authors’ online symposium on the evolving ethics of qualitative research in fragile states For policymakers, fragility and conflict are one of the 21st century’s key development challenges. Fragility is by definition heterogeneous and contextual—which is why qualitative research is such a good tool to help us understand exactly why “there” is so messed up, and what we could or should do to fix it. And so, perhaps logically, we—primarily young, western, tertiary-educated men and women—are doing more and Read More »

The Middle East in the Making of Modern Humanitarianism

Download the podcastFeed | iTunes | Hipcast | SoundcloudThe First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire are defining moments in the political history of the modern Middle East. This narrative is usually told through the lenses of the breakup of empire, the successes and failures of national movements, and the colonial involvement of British and French Mandates in the region. In this episode, Keith Watenpaugh offers a different approach to this story through a critical look at the role of American humanitarian Read More »

Patriotes, Mondialistes, and Sites of International Memory

In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, Europeans have returned to the political rhetoric of times we might have long thought past. Late last year nostalgia and disorientation resonated through the French National Front’s victory-cry at elections, as Marie Le Pen declared the world no longer divided left against right, but patriotes against mondialistes. Given the combination of challenges making European headlines—from collapsing economies to borders—the rhetoric of the right echoes a sense of threat posed to nations by globalization (a tone particularly resonant Read More »

Conscience in the Datasphere

Deluged in data for more than a decade, our reflex has been to articulate our fears and anxieties in the language of privacy. But it may be more appropriate—and useful—to think in terms of conscience. Etymologically, conscience is, of course, the “knowledge with” which we act, on which we are judged, and through which we achieve self-awareness. Today, this knowledge is produced in part through the steady streams of information we cede, emit and receive in the ceaseless data-flux that we now inhabit. We might Read More »

The Holocaust between Scholar and Public Intellectual

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. By Timothy Snyder. In his recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Corey Robin describes the position of the public intellectual as a dialectic: “On the one hand, he’s supposed to be called by some combination of the two vocations Max Weber set out in his lectures in Munich: that of the scholar and that of the statesman. Neither academic nor activist but both … On the other hand, the public intellectual is supposed to possess Read More »

Can Philanthropy Feed The World?: A Review Of David Rieff’s The Reproach Of Hunger

The world has done a remarkable job of feeding itself. Despite population growth, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the prevalence of hunger in most parts of the developing world has declined from 18.2 percent in 2002 to 13.5 percent in 2013. In part, this is because food itself has become more affordable. Prices of staple foods have declined (with occasional blips): in 1995 the average price for maize was about $350 per ton, in 1995 it was about $200 per ton, and last Read More »

Can a Citizen be Sovereign?

This is a pre-publication version of Patrick Weil’s essay, due to appear in Humanity this year. We post this version in light of pressing political developments in France that revolve around questions of citizenship, immigration, and sovereignty, precisely the themes explored here. Since the Rights of Man were proclaimed to be ‘inalienable’ irreducible to and undeducible from other right or laws, … man appeared as the only sovereign in matters of law as the people was proclaimed the only sovereign in matters of government. — Hannah Arendt Read More »

The Paris Climate Agreement in Historical Perspective

The COP21 accord signed on Saturday represents a landmark achievement in the fight against global climate change. The negotiations in Paris produced a binding commitment by 195 nations to restrict their greenhouse gas emissions. Despite years of effort, such a sweeping agreement had eluded negotiators until now. COP21, however, was not entirely without historical precedent. In addition to earlier, less successful attempts to limit greenhouse gas emissions like the Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, and Copenhagen agreements, the talks in Paris also evoked older debates about Read More »

From Method to Market: Some Thoughts on the Responses to Tomayto Tomahto

In this final post, Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott respond to comments by Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael Woolcock, Morten Jerven, Alex de Waal, and Holly Porter. Our paper, Tomayto Tomahto, is in essence an exhortation and an ethical question. The exhortation: treat and unpack R4F (for we limit our observations to research conducted for policy-making about fragile and conflict-affected places) as an institution of global governance, a set of complex social processes and knowledge practices that produce evidence as part of policy-making. The ethical question: Read More »

The Alchemy of Relationships and the Production of Evidence

This post is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael Woolcock, Morten Jerven, and Alex de Waal. The piece is a welcome provocation to discussion, even if ultimately I am left with the thought: there is a rather fundamental difference between tomatoes on a supply chain and the pursuit of understanding human experience. I show that here, intentionally choosing to write from Read More »

Policy to Research to Policy in Difficult Places

This post is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael Woolcock, Morten Jerven. There’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme Read More »

Evidence Based Policy or Policy Based Evidence? Supply and Demand for Data in a Donor Dominant World

This post is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, and Michael Woolcock. In 2010 I was doing research for Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. I was In Lusaka, Zambia on a Wednesday afternoon, and was having a free and frank conversation with a specialist working for the UK’s Department for Read More »

Beyond the Quest for "Policy Implications": Alternative Options for Applied Development Researchers

This post is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott and Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo. My nomination for development’s ‘Most Insightful, Least Cited’ paper is Ariel Heryanto’s “The development of ‘development.'”[1] Originally written in Indonesian in the mid-1980s, Heryanto’s gem been cited a mere 79 times (according to Google Scholar), even in its carefully-translated English incarnation. For me, this paper is so wonderful because it makes, in Read More »

Turning the Gaze on Ourselves: Acknowledging the Political Economy of Development Research

This post is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries, beginning with Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott‘s piece. While researchers (ourselves included) now consistently underline the importance of understanding the political economy of developing countries and donors that support them in order to achieve better aid outcomes, the research industry remains largely ambivalent about questions of our own political economy. Desai and Tapscott’s paper is therefore a refreshing attempt to start Read More »

Tomayto Tomahto: The Research Supply Chain and the Ethics of Knowledge Production

Aid in the 21st century is increasingly evidence-driven. Between 2000 and 2006, the World Bank spent a total of $630 million on research. By 2011 the World Bank was spending $606 million per year, or about a quarter of its country budgets. In September of this year, by signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community enshrined a commitment to “increase significantly” a range of high-quality data over the next 15 years, to facilitate qualitative as well as quantitative understandings of growth and Read More »

Rethinking Research: Systemic Approaches to the Ethics and Politics of Knowledge Production in Fragile States

Over the next week, Humanity will be hosting an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. In light of the intensification of evidence-based policymaking and the “data revolution” in development, the symposium asks what the ethical and political implications are for qualitative research as a tool of governance. The symposium will begin tomorrow with a short paper from Deval Desai and Rebecca Tapscott, followed by responses during the week from Lisa Denney and Pilar Domingo (ODI); Michael Woolcock (World Bank); Morten Jerven (Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Simon Fraser University); Alex de Read More »

Call For Papers: Human Rights Working Paper Series

The Human Rights Working Paper Series (WPS) is dedicated to interdisciplinary and critical dialogue on international human rights law and discourse. It publishes innovative papers of the highest quality by established and early-career researchers and practitioners, from the University of Texas and other institutions around the world. The WPS provides authors with an opportunity to receive feedback on works in progress. It also seeks to provide a lively, productive environment for debate about human rights among academics, policymakers, practitioners, and the wider public. To this Read More »


International Research Academy on the History of Global Humanitarianism Academy Leaders: Fabian Klose (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz) Johannes Paulmann (Leibniz Institute of European History Mainz) Andrew Thompson (University of Exeter) in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (Geneva) and with support by the German Historical Institute London Venues: University of Exeter, UK & Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva Dates: July 10-22, 2016 Deadline: December 31, 2015 Information at: and The international GLOBAL HUMANITARIANISM | RESEARCH Read More »

Europe’s Embarrassment

The European Agenda on Migration, published May 13 and implemented throughout the past summer, is a fascinating initiative. The policy has four stated “pillars”: (1) reducing incentives for unauthorized or “irregular” migration; (2) border management — which is understood as both border enforcement and saving the lives of migrants at risk; (3) a “strong common asylum policy” and (4) providing new avenues for legal migration. This agenda presents the EU’s most comprehensive attempt to address a surging number of asylum seekers and migrants now seeking Read More »

Between the Sea and the Problem of Humanity:  The Mediterranean’s Refugees and the Humanitarian Reason of Rescue at Sea

Rescues at sea are dangerous and come with great possible cost to those involved.  In this brief essay, I consider why, beyond a simple explanation of the imperative to protect life, civilian sailors rescue refugees at sea, and explore how specific extreme environments and professional identities may interface at the boundaries of humanitarian imagination, thought and action Before MSF and the navies of EU states became more involved in intercepting boatloads of refugees sinking into the Mediterranean, the job of pulling them out of the Read More »

Birth from Death

There is this great anecdote that Gershom Scholem tells at the end of his monumental Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. It speaks of the Baal Shem Tov, the eighteenth-century founder of Hasidism, who, when he had “a difficult task before him . . ., would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer — and what he had set out to perform was done.” The tale follows the slow, generational loss of the elements that ensure successful results Read More »

Floors, Ceilings, and Beams: What’s Missing in Moyn’s Account of Inequality

At the heart of his provocative essay, Samuel Moyn highlights the shortcomings of the human rights framework to confront socioeconomic inequality. His central argument asserts that human rights norms articulate the minimal obligations of states to protect the poor but say nothing about the excesses of wealth, therefore accommodating a neoliberal ideology that fundamentally threatens human dignity. In my view, Moyn produces a brief but inadequate description of human rights provisions for social welfare (floors), overlooks some recent attempts at placing limits on accumulation (ceilings), Read More »

Human rights and the age of inequality

Some new research I am doing considers what — if anything — the explosion of human rights politics in our time has to do with our recently confirmed explosion of inequality across the same time period. An initial progress report appears in this weeks’s review section of the “Chronicle of Higher Education.” What do you think?Read More »

The Abused Politics of “Minorities” and “Majorities”: Quantifiable Entities or Shifting Sites of Power?

Scholars, pundits, opinion-makers, and the general public too often agree that the primary concern to address today in the contemporary Middle East is religious diversity and the need to protect religious minorities. As a result, the so-called religious minorities have gradually come to constitute a fundamental feature of state politics. They are usually depicted and discussed as unchangeable entities presenting coherent political assets in international affairs, as well as analytical categories through which a more immediate understanding of the Middle Eastern scenario is finally possible. This Read More »

Feed the World or Fight for Justice (or Both)?

This is one entry in a roundtable on the NIEO, featuring short articles by scholars who contributed to Humanity’s recent special issue on the topic. Be sure to read other posts by Johanna Bockman and Patrick Sharma. A conference centre in the small town of Haslemere, 43 miles south-west of central London, is an unlikely place to start a revolution. But it was there, in January 1968, that a group of twenty-five “young and disillusioned” members of Britain’s NGO sector (acting in an individual capacity, but happy to be recognised as Read More »

The first constitution to make human dignity its leading principle was…

…the Vichy constitution of 1944.   Its first article read: “The liberty and dignity of the human person are supreme values and intangible goods.”   I have recently been looking into this, on a tip from James Chappel, with help from my research assistant Rachel Craft, and advice from my honored former colleague Bob Paxton. In case it is of general interest, or anyone out there knows more, I am reporting my findings here, which I am incorporating in the final version of my historical Read More »

Conference on International Law and Time: Registration Open

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, International Law Department, is holding a conference entitled “International Law and Time” in Geneva, Switzerland, from 12-13 June 2015. Registration for the conference is now open. The programme features the following panels: Attributing Meaning to Time: Visions of History and Future Role of Time in the Creation of Norms Time and the Operation of International Law Norms International Law between Change and Stability Continuity, Discontinuity, Recurrence Dealing with the Past: Legacy, Retroactivity and Beyond The conveners can Read More »

Socialist Globalization against Capitalist Neocolonialism: The Economic Ideas behind the New International Economic Order

This is one entry in a roundtable on the NIEO, featuring posts by scholars who contributed to Humanity’s recent special issue on the topic. Be sure to read other posts by Kevin O’Sullivan and Patrick Sharma. My article focuses on the economic ideas behind the NIEO, specifically the ideas of the staff working for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Their ideas are rather surprising. They wrote about the need for markets, liberalization of trade, structural adjustment, export-oriented production, and increased financial flows. In our discussions at the Read More »

Theses on the philosophy of human rights history

[I wrote these for the exciting upcoming Princeton conference; comments welcome below.]   The “history of human rights” is not a field I personally think ought to exist. The most important fact about it, in a certain sense, is that no one ever proposed to bring it into being until the present day. As its coverage expands backwards before the near present, it normally describes some interesting but partial inquiries that have long figured and could still figure in various prior fields, from the history Read More »

The Rich Countries’ Substitute for the NIEO

This is one entry in a roundtable on the NIEO, featuring posts by scholars who contributed to Humanity’s recent special issue on the topic. Be sure to read other posts by Johanna Bockman and Kevin O’Sullivan. Last October, the Chinese government announced the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is intended to rival the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which are dominated by the United States and other developed countries, in providing financial assistance to countries in Asia. Read More »

Congrats to Miriam Ticktin

Congrats to Miriam Ticktin, Humanity editorial collective member, who has been selected for a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in the School of Social Sciences.Read More »

The civil rights movement for corporations

Joseph Slaughter, one of the members of Humanity‘s editorial collective, published “We’re in the Middle of a Corporate Civil Rights Movement” on Talking Points Memo. Check it out. Among other things, Slaughter notes that while people “often talk of the women’s liberation and gay rights movements as building on the success of the African-American Civil Rights Movement,” corporations “may be the biggest beneficiaries of abolition and the civil rights struggle—as the successful pushback against the Indiana RFRA will ultimately prove.” As Slaughter points out, this has a history, Read More »

Is there an assault on international law today?

The Wall Street Journal runs my brief review of Jens Ohlin’s book contending that there is.Read More »

Law and neoliberalism

Congrats to David Singh Grewal (Yale) and Jedediah Purdy (Duke) who have curated and introduced a major new dossier in Law and Contemporary Problems on law and neoliberalism. The table of contents with links to full-text articles is here.Read More »

Peter Slezkine Round table: Peter Slezkine responds

This post is the final response in our round table on Peter Slezkine’s essay from our most recent issue. Be sure to read the entries by Stephen Hopgood, Kenneth Roth, Aryeh Neier, and Bart De Sutter. I would like to thank Stephen Hopgood, Kenneth Roth, Aryeh Neier, and Bart de Sutter for their thoughtful comments. De Sutter is right to point to the limited availability of the internal documentation of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Much remains to be discovered, and I look forward to learning more about the history of the Helsinki Read More »

Peter Slezkine Round table: A Plea to Open the Archives

This post is part of our round table on Peter Slezkine’s essay on the origins of Human Rights Watch from our recent issue. Please be sure to read other entries by Stephen Hopgood, Kenneth Roth, Aryeh Neier, and a final response from the author. Peter Slezkine’s contribution is a welcome attempt to understand the expanding scope of Human Rights Watch (HRW) from its origins as the Helsinki Watch to its current claim to defend the rights of people worldwide. Despite the recent surge of interest in the history Read More »

Peter Slezkine Round table: The Importance of Ronald Reagan’s Election

This post is part of our round table on Peter Slezkine’s essay on the origins of Human Rights Watch from our recent issue. Please be sure to read other entries by Stephen Hopgood, Kenneth Roth, Bart De Sutter, and a final response from the author. Peter Slezkine does a good job describing the origins Human Rights Watch. I could quibble over a few details and points of emphasis.  In general, however, so far as it goes, his account seems to me to be accurate. In the comment that follows, Read More »

Peter Slezkine Round table: The Two Paths that Converged in Human Rights Watch

This post is part of our round table on Peter Slezkine’s essay on the origins of Human Rights Watch from our recent issue. Please be sure to read other entries by Stephen Hopgood, Aryeh Neier, Bart De Sutter, and a final response from the author. Peter Slezkine is right to note there were two different methodologies at the origin of Human Rights Watch, which began as a series of regional Watch groups. Helsinki Watch was founded foremost to protect local activists in Soviet-era Moscow, Warsaw, Prague and other Eastern Read More »

Peter Slezkine Round table: The Sword and the Cross

This post is part of our round table on Peter Slezkine’s essay on the origins of Human Rights Watch from our recent issue. Please be sure to read other entries by Kenneth Roth, Aryeh Neier, Bart De Sutter, and the final response from the author. Peter Slezkine’s “From Helsinki to Human Rights Watch” tilts persuasively at a key myth beloved by human right advocates, that of the ineluctable unfolding of natural law (being “in league with the cosmos,” Thomas Jefferson called it). Actually how Human Rights Watch evolved was Read More »

CFP: International Law and Time

Deadline for abstract submission: February 15, 2015 The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva (IHEID), International Law Department, is convening a conference entitled ‘International Law and Time’ from June 12–13, 2015, to explore the phenomena of time and change in international law. Time is an inherent component of many of the most important international law concepts. However, it also fundamentally determines international law as a field. International law has been inconstant dynamic change since its inception. Capturing and understanding this change in time is Read More »

Discussion: Cartographies of the Absolute by Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle

Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle’s forthcoming book, Cartographies of the Absolute, addresses the proliferation of works in the visual arts, film and literature that seek to tackle the representation of contemporary capitalism. Their research, which began in 2009 with a collaborative text on the HBO series The Wire, forms a critical survey of works that “totalize” current conditions and look to “thematize those facets of social existence which are particularly symptomatic of the trends and tensions in today’s political economy: financial markets, logistical complexes, commodity chains, and so on.” Inherent in this turn Read More »

CfA: Global Humanitarianism Research Academy 2015

The international Global Humanitarianism | Research Academy (GHRA) offers research training to advanced PhD candidates and early postdocs. It combines academic sessions at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz and the Imperial and Global History Centre at the University of Exeter with archival sessions at the Archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. The Research Academy addresses early career researchers who are working in the related fields of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, peace and conflict studies as well as human rights covering the period from the 18th to the 20th century. It supports scholarship on Read More »

Against all angels

Israeli Author Yoram Kaniuk passed away exactly one year ago, on June 8, 2013. His somewhat rambling and quasi-biographical essay Angels (“Mal’achim”) was published posthumously as a small book. The author is depicted on the book’s jacket in a long black coat. Standing on top of a lamppost like a crow, he overlooks the urban skyline of Tel-Aviv. White wings attached to his back suggest that he is the angel in the book’s title.Read More »

The human in human rights

Q: When we abduct, imprison, torture, or force another person by violence and credible threats of violence to do our bidding, are we engaging in acts of a) dehumanization, b) demonization, or c) dis-humanization? Think hard, because a lot depends on the answer. Read More »

Why is dignity in the Charter of the United Nations?

Given the current interest in "human dignity" -- which I have canvassed elsewhere -- a number of people are interested in why it became canonized in the first place.Read More »

Ghosts of the field: rendering and retaining meaning

There are two sets of ghosts that we experience when visiting and engaging with field sites. The more obvious are the people whose worlds we seek to study, such as empirical ghosts. The other is the philosophical ghost, which underpins how we approach a particular point of enquiry. This latter ghost travels with us to the field, resting on our observations and indeed guiding how we see. But which “field ghost” remains to sculpt our knowledge, guiding the essence of our study?Read More »

Projected memory: reflections on one year's work at a memorial museum in Germany, and an initiative that aims to remind us how we remembered

In the summer of 2011, I made a day trip to the Gedenkstätte Sachsenhausen memorial museum on the grounds of a former Nazi concentration camp and later Soviet detention center. Like many others, I think, I had wanted to see a former concentration camp for some time for vague, hard-to-articulate feelings. What would I feel while on site? What of the physical grounds remained in place? Which narratives were emphasized and which relegated to the periphery?Read More »

The murder of Malcolm X: forty-nine years ago today

Forty-nine years ago today, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, gunmen opened fire on the African-American activist Malcolm X, killing him almost instantly. He was 39 years old. By the time of his murder, Malcolm had become an isolated figure in American life. He spent most of the last year of his life either abroad (in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe) or preparing to go abroad.Read More »

Human rights postdoc announcement

The Berkeley Human Rights Program has announced a postdoctoral fellowship for the 2014-15 academic year. Applicants should currently be engaged in research on the historical and theoretical foundations of human rights. Applications are due February 10 via an online system. Additional information about the position and application process can be found at More »

Human rights and "neoliberalism"

Crossposted from the new blog Humanitarianism and Human Rights: Read More »

Video commentary: what is visual citizenship?

Watch the video commentary on issue 4.3's visual citizenship dossier.Read More »

Congratulations to Katherine Lebow

We're thrilled to learn that Katherine Lebow is the winner of the Polish Studies Association's Aquila Polonica Prize for 2013 for her article "The Conscience of the Skin: Interwar Autobiography and Social Rights" (Humanity 3:3 [Winter 2012]: 297-319). Read More »

The demise of international criminal law

We theorists of international law like to pose venturesome, vitalizing questions, sweeping in scope: What would an ideal system of international criminal law look like, for instance, relieved of today’s geostrategic constraints? How might we lend some conceptual coherence to such a program, flesh out its normative details? What kind of world would be required for such a program to become possible, even intelligible? How should we imagine the workings of such a hypothetical world?Read More »

Humanity 4.3 is out

Issue 4.3, featuring a dossier on visual citizenship, is now available! Read More »

Dignity in general and in American constitutional law

This week The Nation published my essay on the origins and trajectory of human dignity, in which I engage absorbing and accomplished books by Michael Rosen and Jeremy Waldron. Read More »

The duty to reflect, still cogent

In a recent opinion column (“The Duty to Protect, Still Urgent,” New York Times, September 13, 2013), Professor Michael Ignatieff, speaking on behalf of “those of us who have worked hard to promote the concept” of a responsibility to protect, passionately argues in favor of the use of force in Syria and more generally each time “civilians are threatened with mass killing.” Although he admits prevention through conflict resolution and legality via a Security Council vote are preferable, he observes that “when prevention fails, force becomes the last resort,” and “if the United StateRead More »

What is remedial intervention?

While the planned attack on Syria now seems to be deferred, the administration’s arguments supporting it will likely resurface. These arguments have admittedly been somewhat stuttering. Yet they will almost inevitably remain resources to be pulled up and reused, sooner or later. What can be said about the intervention’s purported justification from a human rights perspective? And perhaps more to the point, what would that perspective be?Read More »

In the name of security

“This norm against using chemical weapons,” explained Obama in his Tuesday Remarks Before Meeting with Members of the Congress, “is there for a reason: Because we recognize that there are certain weapons that, when used, can not only end up resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to non-state actors.” Read More »

Humanity 4.2 is out

Issue 4.2, featuring a symposium on human rights history organized by Humanity board member Jan Eckel, is now available!Read More »

Michael Ignatieff's critique of human rights (and other scenes from the National Humanities Center)

It was the first few pleasant moments in a two-day event, the second annual “Human Rights and the Humanities” conference at the National Humanities Center, held in March 2013. Greetings had been extended, sponsors thanked, the distinguished keynote speaker introduced, and the audience settled in. But almost immediately the speaker was parting company with many in his audience. His title was “Do States Have the Right to be Wrong about Justice?,” and the argument, surprising and disturbing to many in the room, was that yes, they did. Read More »

The Haiti paradigm, twenty years after

The question of high-seas interdiction of asylum seekers has not come before the United States Supreme Court ever since Sale v. Haitian Centers Council. A comparative perspective, however, reveals quite a different story.Read More »

Human rights are superficial

James Ron and his colleagues have started a new discussion at Open Democracy called "Open Global Rights." Ron and friends posted an early piece concerning Read More »

Humanity interview with James Ferguson, pt. 3: what future politics and development?

"If things were worse, they would be worse; and if they were better, they would be better. So I suppose that makes me a reformist, in those terms. I do not think that somehow without the velvet glove, all illusions would be undone and the masses would come to consciousness." Read More »

Humanity interview with James Ferguson, pt. 2: rethinking neoliberalism

"It is important to recognize that this thing we call neoliberalism is an intellectually complex field, and that there is not a single politics that we can neatly and unproblematically attach to the style of reasoning that we identify as neoliberal."Read More »

Humanity interview with James Ferguson, pt. 1: development as "swarming state power"

Humanity co-editors Nils Gilman and Miriam Ticktin spoke with James Ferguson on May 31, 2013, at Stanford University. This week their conversation will appear here in three installments, starting with today's.Read More »

Humanity 4.1 is out

Issue 4.1, featuring the work of photographer Murtada Bulbul and a dossier on transitions and reconciliation, is now live!Read More »

The peculiar Marxism of Elaine Scarry

<< Against political imagination I would also like to briefly defend The Body in Pain, a splendid, subtle book that I think offers a way around many of the snares that Moyn identifies in post-ideological politics generally, and in Rorty’s disaster-aversion project in particular. Scarry’s book has two parts. The first is about torture and war: means of “unmaking” the world. The second part, composed as a response to the first, is about human creativity: the way we make, as the case may be, “remake,” the world. Read More »

Against political imagination

When I was 18 years old, about to head off for college, a friend’s father gifted me a copy of Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope. His explanation was cryptic.Read More »

Torture and taboo

A new piece in this week's issue of The Nation considers Elaine Scarry and, through her criticism, the how and why torture has become so appalling. Read More »

Concluding thoughts (ICC, pt. 7)

Let me conclude. In case I haven’t been clear, the political approach isn’t at all meant to undermine the enterprise or institution. True, it is analytically neutral (more so, certainly, than its three rivals). But if Judith Shklar was right, it could also provide the sole plausible and necessarily instrumental justification for the ICC, for it inquires into whether and how the institution makes the world more decent, especially insofar as it intersects other political agendas in interstate order and disorder.Read More »

Preservation and its limits (ICC, pt. 6)

A final approach is available that tends to postpone the difficult calculus of political judgment, and I’ll call it preservation. People who recognize the severe limitations of promoting and professionalizing nevertheless strategically defer, during an initial period of institution-building, what political analysis is supposed to be about: critical distance for the sake of judgment of outcomes in context. On the preservative view, the ICC is a fledgling cause that needs to be sheltered from the ordinary conditions of inquiry. Read More »

Professionalism and its limits (ICC, pt. 5)

In the face of all this complexity, interim political judgment about what the goals are and whether they are being served is obviously as difficult as it is necessary. But along with promotion, there are two other ways of talking about the ICC I promised to cover. Trailing promotion, the other main form of discourse about our new institution is the professional or professionalizing approach, which follows from the work the ICC gives lawyers as vocational experience, from summer internships to careers in the system.Read More »

The political contexts of international criminal justice (ICC, pt. 4)

So let’s bracket, at the outset, whether the ICC successfully provided retributive justice in the one guilty verdict so far, or even presume its success in any future ones, and then proceed to apply the political framework. In the main part of my talk, I want to consider the political environment for assessing the ICC’s meaning so far, considering possible ends and outcomes in connection with the larger political landscape. Read More »

Promotion and its limits (ICC, pt. 3)

As time passes, this framework will have to supersede the extraordinary predominance of what I will call promotionalism in the world at large and at meetings like this one. The promotional idea presents the creation of the ICC as a moral achievement in spite of and against politics—or at least political interests narrower than those of humanity as a whole.Read More »

For a political theory of the International Criminal Court (ICC, pt. 2)

When asked whether the French Revolution had succeeded, a recent Chinese premier is said to have responded that, after two centuries, it’s still far too soon to tell. That makes it rather unwise to draw any sort of balance sheet on the International Criminal Court at this early stage. Anyway, for the ICC—for the French Revolution for that matter—time isn’t the main difficulty. There is also the thorny matter of what criteria to apply to the assessment in the first place.Read More »

Four ways to talk about the ICC: politics, promotion, professionalism, and preservation (ICC, pt. 1)

This week I’m posting as a series of blog posts a talk I’ve hastily drafted for an interesting event at Yale Law School assessing the first ten years of the International Criminal Court. This still informal version has some things in it that the talk itself did not. For what it’s worth, my thoughts follow—with thanks to Kevin Heller and Paul Kahn for saving me from some even more grievous missteps.Read More »

France in Mali: the end of the fairytale

Whew, Mali. French air raids against Islamist positions in Mali began Thursday night, and the dust hasn’t settled yet. The news is changing fast, but three things emerge from the haze. First, fierce fighting in the North and the East, with French forces in the lead, will open up a whole new set of dangers. With Islamist forces on the attack, foreign intervention was necessary, and many Malians at home and abroad welcomed it enthusiastically. Still, this remains a dangerous moment all around.Read More »

Cambridge Companion to Human Rights Law

Humanity editorial board members Conor Gearty and Costas Douzinas have just published their new coedited Cambridge Companion to Human Rights Law -- of which a review is forthcoming in the journal. Meantime, according to his Twitter feed, Conor announces a book launch at Birkbeck on January 30, 2013 at 6 p.m.Read More »

Mazower responds to Nunan

Right off let me say how grateful I am to Timothy Nunan for the care and intelligence with which he has read and commented on my book. Maybe it is worth saying at the outset that it was not an easy book to write, still less one of those books that write themselves. I found I was engaging more than usually a variety of quite disparate and mutually incomprehending scholarly and quasi-scholarly literatures to a degree that had simply not been true when I tried, for instance, to synthesise the historiography on the Nazi occupation of Europe. Read More »

Totalitarianism, famine and us

A new piece of mine reviewing Yang Jisheng's Tombstone and other relevant books appears in The Nation this week. Yang's summa is getting much coverage, on NPR, the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere.Read More »

Nunan on Mazower: concluding thoughts

As Mazower would himself likely concede, there is in a sense nothing new in his case against the global governance project; one of the themes of Governing the World is that while the technology may change (airplanes one day, drones the next), some of the basic issues at stake in arguments about international law really do not change much from one era to anotherRead More »

Nunan on Mazower: Mazower contra Slaughter

Less well-known, at least until Governing the World, however, is the extent to which this human rights revolution also wreaked havoc on the intellectual coherence of American internationalists traditionally thought of as liberals. Read More »

Nunan on Mazower: human rights and "democracy promotion"

Yet more than lead the charge for a reform of the world monetary system and the global economy, with all it entailed, the United States in the mid- to late 1970s also found a way to discredit much of the Third World’s anti-American, anti-Western discourse by creating new counter-discourses and institutions that bypassed the General Assembly. Read More »

Nunan on Mazower: the UN and the Third World project

Yet as Mazower has emphasized in his earlier 2009 No Enchanted Palace, this was not our UN. Many of the men who played a crucial role in the formation of the organization, from Roosevelt to Churchill to Jan Smuts to Alfred Zimmern (not to mention Stalin) were keenly attuned to the realities of Great Power politics. Read More »

Nunan on Mazower: from the Concert of Europe to the UN

Prognoses of American decline were already in vogue prior to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, but ever since the wave of such terrorist attacks and protests across the Muslim World in early September, the Obama Administration has seemed rudderless in articulating what it wants, not just in its relations with Muslim-majority countries, but in terms of international order more broadly. Administration advocates for the Libyan adventure like Samantha Power have been nowhere to be heard from in some time. Read More »

Nunan on Mazower: introduction

Watch here in the coming days for Timothy Nunan's review of Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (New York, 2012). The review will appear on this blog in five installments, which we look forward to bringing you.Read More »

Issue 3.3 is now live: dossier on social rights in the twentieth century

Our new issue is a dossier on social rights in the twentieth century, beautifully curated by Małgorzata Mazurek, Paul Betts, Andreas Eckert, Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, and Sandrine Kott. Start by reading the preface by Mazurek and Betts, and don't miss Fred Cooper's concluding reflections on the essays.Read More »

Humanity Call for Papers: The New International Economic Order and the Global Interregnum of the 1970s

The 1970s are remembered in the Global North as a time of stagflation, malaise, and political drift. But from the point of view of much of the Global South, this same epoch was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and political ambition. Particularly for primary producers in the wake of the OPEC oil price hikes, the 1970s were a time of unparalleled hopes for a rebalancing of global power relations and institutional authority. One manifestation of the new global mood was a profound shift in the understanding of global responsibilities for achieving development in the South.Read More »

Empire as a practice of power: empire as ideology and as technique

Ayça Çubukçu: Considering the impressive common ground shared by what you differentiate as liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire, why would it be incorrect to interpret what you name an anti-liberal ideology of empire as an articulation internal to liberal imperialism? What are your criteria for distinguishing between liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire on the one hand, and “techniques” and “ideologies” of imperial practice, on the other?Read More »

Empire as a practice of power: the legitimation of imperial practices

Ayça Çubukçu: In contradistinction to nationalist projects that would be fashioned during the colonial modern, in a formation you distinguish as the early modern, various “native” figures in British India—among them Rammohan—were campaigning for liberty and equality as subjects of the British Crown, with a certain kind of faith in the emancipating mission of British rule. What is the significance of such early modern imaginaries of political community, which you observe to have been “doomed”? Why do they resist attempts to subsume them in nationalist historiographies of modernity? Read More »

Empire as a practice of power: empire is an inseparable part of modern political theory

Ayça Çubukçu: How would you describe the field and the genre which The Black Hole of Empire fits, or else, wishes to inspire? What is the craft you practiced when writing The Black Hole? Is this a book in Anthropology and Asian Studies as the Princeton University Press catalogue claims?Read More »

Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History

Congratulations to Samera Esmeir, Humanity editorial board member, on the publication of her new book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford University Press). Here's the publisher's description:Read More »

Empire as a practice of power: introduction

When Siraj, the ruler of Bengal, overran the British settlement of Calcutta in 1756, he allegedly jailed 146 European prisoners overnight in a cramped prison. Of the group, 123 died of suffocation.Read More »

Newtopia: The State of Human Rights

If you pass through Belgium this fall, stop by "Newtopia: The State of Human Rights," an ambitious new art exhibition staged by Katerina Gregos and others. (Here's an interview with Gregos.) Along with Ariella Azoulay, Stéphane Hessel, and Elena Sorokina, I've offerd a short text for the catalogue.Read More »

What gets lost: reflection

Any place on its way to hell or already there has been preceded by stories like this. Small things that insist on attention and remain in memory, because that is the world people spontaneously create and sustain all the time in their daily lives when they are free to do so, alongside whatever authorities and governments and media regimes they may live under. Violence disrupts this everyday freedom, as it has disrupted even my memories from a distance. Read More »

What gets lost: Palmyra

After several days of conferencing, our group of twenty or so takes a day-trip to the ruins of ancient Palmyra, over 200 kilometers northeast. The journey takes about two hours by bus. On the far outskirts as we leave the city before entering the desert, we drive through a monumental construction site covering an area of what looks to be several square miles, extending on either side of the highway. It is a housing project, a large-scale settlement clearly intended for and anticipating hundreds if not thousands of people.Read More »

What gets lost: the city

I pay the bill and we head out walking for an hour or so in the neighborhood, which is outside the old city. With no particular place to go and the barest of maps, we circle the area of our hotel, sometimes retracing our steps but all in the process of orientation. It is not late when we start, maybe eight o’clock or so, but there are few people around and most of the businesses are closed. We pass pastry shops displaying pyramids of sweets, and several others that seem devoted entirely to wedding announcement cards, examples of which are exhibited in the windows.Read More »

Now featured: dossier on militarism and humanitarianism

From Nils Gilman's introduction: "This dossier explores some of the ways that contemporary practices of development and humanitarianism have recently come to interpenetrate with military activities.Read More »

What gets lost: arrival

“Is this your first visit?” asked the passport official. “Yes.” “Welcome to Syria.”Read More »

What gets lost: impetus

Just over two years ago, in March 2010, I was a tourist in Damascus: I ate things, I bought things, I danced around a tiled fountain with the cigar-wielding brother of a restaurant owner in the Christian Quarter. I walked through souks, madrassas, caravanserais and hammams; I was guided around the Umayyad Mosque by a young Arabic teacher who doubled as a guide for extra cash, as families sat around in the sunny inner courtyard passing the time, eating, watching their children play. I was on holiday in Syria. This hardly seems possible now.Read More »

What gets lost: introduction

Over the next couple of weeks, the Humanity blog will feature a series of posts penned by Kelly Grotke, a postdoctoral fellow at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki. In her political travel memoir, which concerns a visit to Damascus in March 2010, Grotke ruminates on expectation and exception from the visitor's point of view.Read More »

Timbuktu: whatever happened to the African Renaissance?

Mali in the rainy season has its own rhythm, especially in the South: long days under heavy skies anticipating rain; moments when it comes so powerfully the world seems ready to end. Afterwards, a peculiar freshness and coolness, and new brown streams gurgling everywhere. With Ramadan coming soon, that rhythm will be syncopated, the regular beat of fasting, praying, and feasting punctuated by the shifting rhythm of the storms. Read More »

Congratulations to Nehal Bhuta

Congratulations to Humanity editoral collective member Nehal Bhuta on his appointment as Professor of International Law at the European University Institute in Florence. Read More »

Dressing a skeleton

On a recent trip to Berlin I visited KZ Sachsenhausen, a former Nazi concentration camp located just an hour north of the city. It was a beautiful day—high summer in Berlin, in the mid-seventies with a slight breeze—and the treetops, visible over the camp’s reconstructed fence, bobbed in the wind. The tour bus pulled into a large gravel parking lot across from tidy stucco houses with drawn blinds and trimmed gardens. An older man dressed in shorts and an open shirt rummaged around in his tool shed and emerged with a pair of gardening shears. Read More »

The "anthropocene" or peak humanity? Periodizing humanity in geological time

There's a very important new paper out in Nature entitled "Approaching a state shift in the Earth's biosphere." Exec summary: Read More »

Mali's rebels and their fans, suffering and smiling

Strange bedfellows in the Malian Sahara of late. The Tuareg rebel movements that took control of northern Mali last month looked to have struck a deal over the weekend, only to have it come into question since. The supposedly secular, progressive, and multi-ethnic MNLA shook hands with the Ansar Dine, the Salafist movement that has been more or less playing host to sundry terrorists, criminals and hostage-takers like AQMI, MUJAO, or Boko Haram. It’s tough to say just what this deal means, or how long it will last, but it ought to have put some of the MNLA’s foreign fans in a bind. Read More »

Of fallen soldiers and endless war

On last week I posted a review of Mary Dudziak's interesting new book War Time, dwelling on the American mythology of endless war. Dudziak offered her own reflections in response.Read More »

The Gray Lady's humanity

The New York Times saw fit to grace its "Sunday Review" section this weekend with our editorial board member's Faisal Devji's excellent essay on the poety of Muslim radicalism, as well as my own piece on human rights. Thanks! Read More »

Carl Schmitt, American prophet

Explanations of American national security policy can scarcely be more timely. Events in Iraq, Libya, and Syria invite reflection on the propriety of US interventions abroad. Both the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program as well as the Obama administration's “targeted killing” of American citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki have reflected an expanded executive authority that has drawn criticism. As the country faces new challenges—Iran, Pakistan, China—contemplating the future of its national security policy demands an unambiguous understanding of its recent past. Read More »

On the origins of international human rights courts

My new piece in The Nation reviews two new books on the subject.Read More »

Dunn on "The Chaos of Humanitarian Aid"

One of the things that fascinate me about humanitarianism is how chaotic it is. I expected to find the aid community to be highly professionalized, highly organized, and highly disciplined—something more like WalMart than a MASH unit. What I found instead was a huge group of aid agencies, donor governments, and representatives of local government who were mostly winging it. So my problem became figuring out how to theorize "winging it," and to find out how to trace its effects on both geopolitics and on the lives of displaced people.Read More »

Simmons, social mobilization, and the civil rights movement

I’ve abstained from commenting on Beth Simmons’s early chapter about the history of human rights. It is not so much that, in my obviously self-interested view as a contributor to that field, her chapter is often uncritical and occasionally unsubstantiated (in its frequent repetition of the commonplace but dubious notion that the Holocaust prompted human rights law for instance). Rather, Simmons’s history of the origins of human rights doesn’t matter to her argument. Read More »

Simmons and self-emancipation

Domestic politics, then. This interim post explores how Beth Simmons thinks the interface between international treaties and domestic forces works. When she turns to the domestic forum, Simmons lays out a tripartite structure for how domestic actors can make use of the new tool of international treaties – at any rate, more than they could make of the hazy moral norms of natural law, or their clarification in written form in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.Read More »

Beth Simmons's realism

Beth Simmons’s Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge, 2009) has been celebrated as the most significant work in the field in many years. And the reception of the book is generally well deserved. As most people know, Simmons brings extraordinary quantitative rigor to the topic of whether several human rights treaties make a difference. Read More »

Casualties of Care

Editorial collective member Miriam Ticktin has just published her book, Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France with University of California Press. Congratulations! Here is the book description: Read More »

Russia's heroin epidemic: why the government is ducking the issue

Drug addiction in Russia has reached epidemic proportions, but the government is refusing to address the problem head-on, preferring instead to inveigh against external forces like the USA, NATO and the war in Afghanistan. On current problems and their implications for the future.Read More »

The New Yorker and the law of war

A couple of weeks ago when it became clear that Barack Obama has reneged on his campaign promise to close the Guantánamo Bay facility, Hendrik Hertzberg inveighed against the result in the New Yorker. Torture was a “vile offense to elementary morality” on George W. Bush’s watch, and there were sundry other “crimes against American and international law” from which Obama’s new policies do not sufficiently depart.Read More »

Deviant Globalization

Nils Gilman's coedited book Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century has been published. Here is the description:Read More »

Libya as example of R2P?

There have been not a few commentators, from the bleeding hearts on the liberal left to the usual suspects on the neocon right, who have been celebrating the raining down of Tomahawk missiles on Libya as a wonderful return of morality to foreign policy.Read More »

The rights of man return

A few people have asked my how my recent account of the history of human rights connects to the contemporary events in Middle Eastern politics. While I have no expertise with respect to the latter, I have a new post at Dissent magazine applying to the events a distinction between the rights of man and human rights on which my book is based. Read More »

What to make of the fact that the first historian of human rights was a conservative German nationalist?

I explore that question in a new article in the American Historical Review.Read More »

Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Problem of Sovereignty

Humanity editorial board member Paul W. Kahn has recently published a new book. Here is the description:Read More »

The irrelevance of democracy promotion

As Sam Moyn has pointed out in his previous post, the events in Tunisia and Egypt have triggered a revival of sorts of “democracy promotion.” Yesterday, the New York Times ran a feature about “the return of pushing democracy” that explored how current events are used by some supporters of the previous administration to suggest that George W.Read More »

Obama, human rights, democracy promotion

One of the interesting features of the current events in Egypt is that they have driven Barack Obama and his administration to a far more significant embrace of human rights language than ever before. Recall that during the last outburst of Middle Eastern protest, in Iran in the summer of 2009, Obama -- having suggested he had learned the lessons of neoconservative universalism -- relied on religious language of "bearing witness" to what happened as repression abroad happened. We might stand idly by, he implied, as repression beckoned, but we should shed a tear and remember the victims.Read More »

Another response to Jan Eckel

In his impressive review article, Jan Eckel develops a detailed survey of the interaction between human rights and decolonization. Most of all, he argues that the place of human rights in decolonization was both more complex and more ambiguous than has been suggested in the works under review, both my own and Fabian Klose’s German-language monograph.Read More »

Response to Jan Eckel

In his review essay “Human Rights and Decolonization: New Perspectives and Open Questions,” Jan Eckel raises many important questions concerning this important topic which only recently has received much attention yet will stay on the research agenda for quite a while. His notion that the history of human rights in decolonization is complex and ambiguous is well taken and hardly contested.Read More »

In the Name of Humanity

Congrats to our coeditor Miriam Ticktin on the publication of her coedited volume (with Ilana Feldman), In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University Press). Here's the book description:Read More »

"The Invention of International Relations Theory"

Congrats to our executive editor Nicolas Guilhot on the publication of his new edited volume, The Invention of International Relations Theory: Realism, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the 1954 Conference on Theory (Columbia University Press). Here's the book description:Read More »

Viral forecasting as a form of global health security

What does tracking bushmeat do for humanity?Read More »

Human rights as a form of idealism

Against the "liberalism of fear" argument.Read More »

World Bank blog site

Brief note on the 2011 World Development Report of the World Bank.Read More »

The velvet glove of humanitarian biomedicine

It strikes me that one of the purposes of the elision is to facilitate the extension of (yes, biomedical, but perhaps not just biomedical) surveillance technologies of the Global North into the Global South, for reasons that primarily benefit the Global North, but that come cloaked with the moral aura of benefiting the South (even though, as you point out, it's not so clear that these surveillances really do help the South much).Read More »

Further reflections on "Two Regimes of Global Health": On the elision of distinctions

If the danger for biomedical humanitarianism is that neglect will return as soon as the visible emergency moves to a different place (as Peter Redfield has argued), the danger for global health security may be one of over-preparedness – that its credibility is damaged when it responds to an event that turns out not to be as catastrophic as promised.Read More »

Modern and postmodern developmentalism

For a good sense of what "development" today is and isn't, you can do worse than to read this excellent if troubling New York Times article on Chinese business practices in Zambia: Read More »

Why is dignity in the Charter of the United Nations?

It could be that without Virginia Gildersleeve, no one would be talking about it today. Read More »

Ghosts of the field: rendering and retaining meaning

There are two sets of ghosts that we experience when visiting and engaging with field sites. Read More »

The murder of Malcolm X: forty-nine years ago today

Forty-nine years ago today, at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, gunmen opened fire on the African-American activist Malcolm X, killing him almost instantly. Read More »

Human rights postdoc announcement

The Berkeley Human Rights Program has announced a postdoctoral fellowship for the 2014-15 academic year. Read More »

Projected memory: reflections on one year's work at a memorial museum in Germany, and an initiative that aims to remind us how we remembered

A project that enables us to put words back into the void that trauma leaves behind. Read More »

Print Friendly