Comparative Literature Seminar: Hijacking Human Rights


On 25 April Dr Joseph Slaughter (Columbia University) will give a lecture during the Comparative Literature Seminar at Utrecht University titled 'Hijacking Human Rights: Neoliberalism and the End of the Third World'. This seminar is organised in collaboration with the Utrecht University research focus area Cultures, Citizenship and Human Rights.

hijacking human rights

Over the past decade, a new historiography of human rights has identified the 1970s as the crucial period when human rights discourse gained traction globally. Most of the historians working in this mode adopt a North Atlantic perspective on the history and concept of human rights; they relegate stories and struggles outside the U.S. and Europe to minor, inconsequential, or irrelevant uses of the languages of human rights. The story of the West’s reduction of human rights to a limited set of individual civil and political protections against state abuses in the 70s cannot be told without recognizing the dramatic foreclosure of other more radical visions of human rights that still obtained in the Third and Fourth Worlds: national self-determination, economic redistribution, and social and cultural security. If the 1970s was the decade of human rights, it was also the decade of hijackings, many of which were undertaken in the name of those broader struggles. As Slaughter argues in this lecture, however, none of those airline hijackings was quite as effective as the neo-liberal hijacking of human rights.

Dr. Joseph Slaughter
Dr. Joseph Slaughter

About the speaker

Joseph Slaughter is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He specializes in literature, law, and socio-cultural history of the Global South (particularly Latin America and Africa). He’s especially interested in the social work of literature — the myriad ways in which literature intersects (formally, historically, ideologically, materially) with problems of social justice, human rights, intellectual property, and international law. His book Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (Fordham UP, 2007), which explores the cooperative narrative logics of international human rights law and the Bildungsroman, was awarded the 2008 René Wellek prize for comparative literature and cultural theory. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Public Voices Fellowship, Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award.


This lecture is also connected to the upcoming annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association ACLA, which will take place 6-9 July 2017 at Utrecht University. Joseph Slaughter serves as the President of the American Comparative Literature Association in 2016.

Start date and time
End date and time
Faculty Club, Kanunnikenzaal, Achter de Dom 7a, Utrecht
Entrance fee
free of charge

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