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Contemporary philosophy of human rights and liberal governmentality


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Patalen, Nikolina. (2017). Contemporary philosophy of human rights and liberal governmentality. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Philosophy.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij filozofije) [mentor Čakardić, Ankica].

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INTRODUCTION Relying on the view that, rather than considering the role of human rights in general terms and acontextually, it can only be deliberated based on discursively specific understanding of achieving justice, equity and liberty in historically specific political and economic context, the paper examines the status of human rights as a point of struggle 'against power', utilizing the perspective of a broader technology of power, described by Michel Foucault as liberal governmentality. Today, human rights are the dominant discourse used to express demands for fair treatment and justice. In addition to being the globally most represented and widespread vocabulary for the articulation of issues of justice, this discourse has no counterpart – demands for justice most often are legitimately to be expressed using this discourse. Due to the lack of an alternative, but also due to the fact that within the last sixty years, since the concept was codified by international law, unfair treatment by state governments, exploitation and marginalization have not been reduced, the question of the emancipatory power of this discourse should be reconsidered. This consideration will start from their understanding as a contemporary political discourse conceptualizing the meanings of human rights protection and forms of their application. PART I HUMAN RIGHTS IN CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT The first part of the paper examines the existing research and interpretations of the productive effects of protection based on human rights on the political and/the economic order and, in this sense, the questionable potential for struggle ‘against power'. Feminist approaches are outlined as a critique of the self-explanatory permanent and acontextual capacity of rights to ensure equity. In addition to the general points of this criticism, particular emphasis is given to the considerations of the position and effects of rights and human rights of the feminist theoreticians Carol Smart and Wendy Brown. Smart considers rights to be a mechanism that transfers power, as opposed to the ingrained perception that they are against or outside of power. This, she argues, makes rights an inappropriate tool for gender emancipation. Brown identifies the inadequacies of human rights as a mechanism that is blind to different social positions which, ultimately, determine the possibility of exercising any given right. Both theoreticians utilize the analytic instruments of Michel Foucault in these considerations. In addition to feminist, the thesis also presents few problem oriented critics of the dominant discourse. These readings demonstrate a relation between contemporary discursive practices and the use of universal rights on the one hand, and the dominant political and economic order on the other. The widespread and universally accepted narrative of the origin or gradual historical development of human rights culminating after World War II, is reinterpreted by stressing the then current political need for the reestablishment of order by the states, but also their need to shift controversial political issues to the judicial and administrative fields. Furthermore, the paper critically deliberates the ingrained view that human rights are a politically neutral tool not embroiled in 'power', expressed through international standards considered to be independent from particular political interests. Issues surrounding the current uses of human rights also regard horizontal principles of human rights, defined in the dominant discourse. This paper points to critical interpretations of the understanding of proclaimed principles of universality and indivisibility – the normative propositions that all human rights belong to everyone. The universality is hardly achievable since contemporary human rights do not call into question the dominant forms of the political organisation of life, which is the division of the world population into national states. The indivisibility cannot be achieved because the practical guarantee of social, economic and cultural rights depends on the organisational style of the economy on a global scale, and their status of human rights is continually questioned in theoretical discussions. The final aspect of the contemporary uses in which critics see a connection with the existing political order is the establishment of an international system of control over the application of rights in national states at a time when countries in colonised territories obtained political sovereignty. In addition to demonstrating the various points of criticism, the dissertation introduces additional problematizing of the status of human rights as a tool for a struggle 'against power' based on Foucault's analytics. With the goal of further contextualizing the role of universal rights in liberal governmentality, the conceptualization of the relations and tasks of political authorities in the dominant discourse are interpreted as well as the common widespread uses of universal rights. PART II THE GENEALOGY OF LIBERAL GOVERNMENTALITY Governmentality as a technology of power is described by Foucault in his later works and lectures, pointing to the important characteristic of taking over the increasingly significant task of governing an increasing number of areas of life. Emphasizing the difference between modern power relations and prohibition in sovereign power as well as the detailed regulation in the disciplinary model, Foucault insists that, although these relations have not disappeared, governmentality prevails in contemporary times. Liberal political rationality that appeared in the 18th century has transformed the task of governing in accordance with the knowledge of political economy that problematizes the reach of government, constructing new spheres for the impact of political authorities, since impact on the market has become undesirable and considered to be bad. The governmental practices of liberal governmentality must follow the principle of the economy, and focus on forms of ensuring natural processes. This is how it has become key to ensure freedoms to individuals in order for them to freely accomplish their own interests in the field of economy. However, the formal guarantee of these freedoms is accompanied by a series of less formal regulations of their use, carried out by both state non-state stakeholders. Furthermore, two collective entities have become new spheres for action by political authorities: the population, with whose statistically cumulative 'natural' characteristics the authorities have begun to deal with and based on which they plan their actions, and society. Having dissected the individual conceptual categories at the base of the contemporary political rationality, Foucault shows that ensuring the freedoms or interventions into the society are not self-explanatory actions, but strategic choices that can be explained as correlates of liberal governmentality. PART III HUMAN RIGHTS IN LIBERAL GOVERNMENTALITY Third part of the paper deals with discursive practices of the dominant discourse of human rights and their application, as they started to appear in 1950s, that is from the adoption of internationally binding legal regulations that guarantee universal protections of these rights. It demonstrates how the conceptualization of the role of state authorities is directly linked to the way in which liberal governmentality deliberates the task of political authorities – the ensurance of the wellbeing of the population and interventions in a great number of areas by regulating them. Also, through the mediation of this discourse, the number of areas governed by state authorities is expanding, and the population and society are reaffirmed as the legitimate objects of governing. The interconnection of the dominant discourse and liberal government can also be seen and in the common procedures of constructing knowledge, since it is statistical knowledge that has become relevant, making justice governable for political authorities. This part of the paper also considers the effects of the use of rights at the level of individuals and explains how political power in contemporary times uses precisely this individual level with the goal of economical governing. In this sense, human rights can be considered a technology of the self, as introduced and defined by Foucault – social and cultural forms taken over by the individual from her or his surroundings in order to become a functional member, which inevitably have political meanings and effects. Human rights, it is shown, participate, among other political concepts, in the structure of vertical relations between the citizens and the state in societies in which the exercise of rights is a conventional way of communicating with political authorities. The politically relevant effects of this are the construction of the state as the only institution competent for the indemnification of injustice, thus being seen as the ultimate protector, and the regulation of demands for justice by a system of envisaged forms. Finally the paper considers one current practice for achieving human rights. The fact that informing citizens of their rights is an increasingly ubiquitous method of exercising human rights is reinterpreted from the perspective of liberal governmentality, where the responsibility for exercising particular tasks is shifted from the state to the citizens. Informed holders of rights can be governed with the expectation that they will independently proclaim injustices, whereby responsibility is transferred to citizens. However the state governments continue to have the task of governing, that is ensuring the environment necessary for securing justice but they seize to have permanent responsibility for injustices. CONSLUSION Critical interpretation of the contemporary human rights discourse points to its interconnectedness with liberal governmentality since the achievement of these rights has effects in sustain liberal governing. Conceptualizations of how rights should be realized make them strategies within this technology of power and lead to the question whether their understanding as struggle ‘against power’ should still be relevant.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: human rights, discourse analysis, critical approaches, feminist critique of law, Michel Foucault, liberal governmentality, governing strategies, technologies of the self
Subjects: Philosophy
Departments: Department of Philosophy
Supervisor: Čakardić, Ankica
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij filozofije
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2017 12:52
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2017 12:52

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