The Centre on Social Movement Studies


Rights as Weapons in Political Conflict

Cosmos, the Centre on Social movement studies at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute, is glad to invite you to the following lecture:

On November 26, in Seminar room 2, at 3 – 5pm

Prof. Bob Clifford (Duquesne University) will speak on Rights as Weapons in Political Conflict.

Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect and uplift the vulnerable. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently–to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Examining historical and contemporary conflicts, this paper describes how activists sharpen rights into weapons: by naturalizing, absolutizing, universalizing, and depoliticizing them. The paper shows how they wield rights: to camouflage ulterior motives, break rival coalitions, attack policies, and explode societies. Finally, the paper analyzes how targets repulse the assault, often by fashioning contrary rights. Comparing key episodes in rights’ rise, the paper raises troubling new questions about a concept we thought we knew. Among contemporary cases considered are the use of animal rights, gay rights, and women’s rights in settings as diverse as the Catalan nationalist movement, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Afghanistan war.