Issue 9.2


In our new issue we feature Joseph Massad’s piece arguing against self-determination. Also in this issue are essays on human rights and promise making, colonial officials and international development, humanitarian neutrality, and Catholic human rights doctrine. The issue rounds off with a review essay on archives, memory and dictatorship.




Against Self-Determination

It is often claimed that anticolonial nationalism and self-determination have a coeval history, indeed, that self-determination is the principle through which anticolonialists would achieve their declared goal of independence from colonialism.1 The story goes that not only have anticolonialism and self-determination emerged around the same historical juncture but they are also imbricated in one another, so much that the colonial recognition of one automatically leads to the colonial recognition of the other. Yet, on closer inspection, this seems to be a misleading narrative. Not only Read More »

Promise-Making and the History of Human Rights: Reading Arendt with Danto

Dear Mr. President: This is to draw attention to the cases of a group of colleagues of ours, historians well known in the academic community, all of whom are now in prison . . . Every scholar has a vested interest in this matter. Faithfully, Hannah Arendt (Letter to Augusto Pinochet, November 27, 1974, writing at the urging of an Amnesty International chapter in Brussels)1 Dear Dr. Kissinger: We noted with pleasure the implication in your conversation with Mr. Moyers that you are actively intervening Read More »

The Art of Chameleon Politics: From Colonial Servant to International Development Expert

In 1974, Kenneth Sargent, a former British colonial servant turned United Nations employee, received a prestigious award from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for his services in development work.1 At the award ceremony at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Sargent’s résumé was distributed to delegates. It deliberately glossed over his colonial service. What should we read into this omission? Scholars have described and criticized international development as the old European civilizing mission under new guise, outlasting the formal end of colonialism. In that Read More »

The Politics of Neutrality: Cimade, Humanitarianism, and State Power in Modern France

In its 2008 annual report on the status of “centers and locations of administrative retention” for undocumented migrants (les sans-papiers) in France, the French Protestant aid organization Cimade accused Brice Hortefeux, the French minister of immigration, of engaging in a dubious and polemical attempt to sanction the organization for its increasingly harsh critiques of the government’s policies and practices toward these populations.1 Between 1984 and 2007, Cimade had been the only nongovernmental organization (NGO) to have access inside the twenty-five centres de rétention administrative (administrative Read More »

Catholic Social Doctrine and Human Rights: From Rejection to Endorsement?

The Catholic Church is today widely regarded as one of the staunchest advocates of human rights, a perception that Vatican authorities have done much to both uphold and foster over the course of the past few decades. At least since the second half of the 1960s, reference to the notion of human rights has been pervasive in the official discourse produced by the Catholic Church, and the institution is also deeply implicated in the material support of a vast array of “humanitarian” organizations across the Read More »

Memory Offensives Where Impunity Reigns

Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala Kirsten Weld Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. Memory’s Turn: Reckoning with Dictatorship in Brazil Rebecca Atencio Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2014. The physical site, the material object, matters insofar as it represents an embodiment of a given meaning and a certain historical message. Yet what matters about such places goes beyond the physical location—it is the symbolic and subjective location of those who charge it with their own memory and their own meaning . . Read More »