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Title page for ETD etd-07292010-133840

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Passino, Sarah McAuley
Author's Email Address sarah.m.passino@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-07292010-133840
Title Pirating Human Rights
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dana D. Nelson Committee Chair
Cecelia Tichi Committee Member
Colin Dayan Committee Member
Jaya Kasibhatla Committee Member
Joseph Slaughter Committee Member
  • human rights
  • democracy
Date of Defense 2010-06-17
Availability unrestricted

Pirating Human Rights studies critical theorists’ and activists’ insights on rights in order to bring these two differently situated traditions into productive relation. Arguing the left’s critique of rights has led us to the next stage of rights—rights as collective critique—the literature I analyze documents activists’ occupation of and resistance to apolitical humanitarian rights. What emerges from this resistance is a radically democratic production of rights that challenges the apoliticalness of humanitarian rights and widens the frame of discourse from accounts of individual pathologies to structural analysis. Shaped by a genealogical and rhetorical approach, this project foregrounds activists’ refusal of transhistorical claims of good or evil and their insistence that words matter. The language of “rights” matters, not only because they count differently for the disfigured, but because words—as containers that do not mean without struggle—are a radical site of occupation, resistance, and production.

I develop my argument in two parts: part one is an archeology of political rights and part two analyzes the architectures of human rights. The first three chapters place deferral, disruption, and destabalization at the center of a critique of liberalism. Chapter one analyzes The Ripening and Louise Bennett’s “Bans O’ Killing” to exhume the lost anti-colonial sensibilities beneath the international codification of human rights. Chapter two draws on these anti-teleological impulses against the neo-liberal rhetoric of the World Bank. Analyzing The Harder They Come and No Telephone to Heaven, I argue these texts’ attention to formalism is part of a larger project to make visible and disrupt global capital’s evisceration of Third World rights. Chapter three turns to the links between the generic and doctrinal politics of the alter-globalization movement to trace the network narrative’s impulse to make visible the unmanageable new protagonists of globalization. Part two uses social geography to analyze the UDHR and an activist graphic to articulate a radical reformulation of human rights as democracy. I conclude with an analysis of parody’s, and this dissertation’s, constitutive political action—taking—to draw out the implications that political will is not granted by gift but by demand.

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