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School of Law

International Human Rights and Freedom: Possibilities, Epistemologies, Legacies and Alternatives

31 October 2017 - 1 November 2017

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Venue: Colette Bowe Room, Queens' Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS

This workshop is organised by Ratna Kapur, Isobel Roele, Louise Wise in collaboration with the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) and the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context (CLSGC), QMUL

About the workshop

We are delighted to present a two-day workshop that examines critiques of human rights and looks at possible alternative routes to emancipation and progressive politics. We warmly invite interested scholars at all stages in their career and from any discipline to join us.

Extensive critiques of International human rights (IHR) by critical legal scholars - especially feminists and postcolonial theorists – have called into question its worth as a path to human freedom and progressive politics. As a facet of liberal freedom and justice at the global level, human rights have been discredited as part of an Enlightenment project that is neither inclusive nor non-violent and which compels a specific way to be and be free in the world. Encounters with the world’s `Others’ - particularly well-meaning missions to save them - expose the gender, cultural, racial and religious norms on which rescue projects are based and the discomfort caused by these encounters often ends in epistemicide (de Santos) – the destruction of non-liberal/alternate epistemologies.

From this starting point, the workshop seeks to start four conversations. The first interrogates our own assumptions; are the possibilities of human rights really exhausted as a path to freedom? The second grapples with the violence of Enlightenment epistemologies. The third panel draws historical work on the colonial past of human rights into the present moment by thinking about its legacy. The final panel attempts to move beyond the liberal imaginary to rethink freedom - if human rights are not the key to human freedom, what is?

The workshop brings together a host of academics from a range of social science and humanities backgrounds. In taking human rights and freedom as our subject matter at a time of deep suspicion of others in the West, we seek to contribute to a broader conversation about critique and what lies beyond it.

Each panel will feature dialogues between provocateurs and interlocutors and we hope these will spill over into wider discussions. We therefore encourage audience members to arrive ready to actively engage with the provocations they will hear and to be part of our conversations. There will be refreshments and a wine reception to lubricate discussion, so please make sure you register so we have enough to go around!

Tuesday 31 October

Panel 1: 2:00-3:30pm - Rights and the Productive Possibilities of Critique
This first panel sets the scene of the workshop. We aim to explore the question of whether human rights are constitutionally unequal to the task of furthering human freedom, or just contingently so. In particular, the panel explores the emancipatory potential of human rights critique and of critiques of human rights. Possible points of focus include human rights and the death of the subject, the care of the self, human creativity and natality and plurality and political discourse.

  • Chair: Penny Green
  • Provocateur: Ben Golder (UNSW)
  • Interlocutor: Kathryn Medien (Warwick)
  • Provocateur: Kate Nash (Goldsmith)
  • Interlocutor: Isobel Roele (QMUL).

3:303:45 pm: Coffee/Tea break

Panel 2: 3:45-5:15pm - Epistemologies and Violence
This panel will address the violence that sits at the epistemic core of the Enlightenment project. It will ask how forms of epistemic dominance underpin and obscure violence, and how imperial rationalities continue to shape the way we perceive violence and the meanings we attach to it. It will explore the implications and possibilities of heterogeneous ways of knowing the historical and contemporary violence of our world.

  • Chair: Robbie Shilliam (QMUL)
  • Provocateur: Gurminder Bhambra (Sussex)
  • Tutor: Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)
  • Provocateur: Sutha Nadarajah (SOAS) – NOT CONFIRMED
  • Interlocutor: Stewart Motha (Birkbeck).

5:15-7:00pm – Wine Reception

7:30pm – Dinner for invitees

Wednesday 1 November

9:30am onwards – coffee/tea

Panel 3: 10:00-11:30am - Imperial Legacies
This panel will confront the deep entanglements between the colonial past and present, and the challenge of locating ourselves within this present. Foregrounding the importance of race and racialization as fundamental structuring logics of past and present global orders – and our ways of knowing and acting in these orders – it will engage with the too often obscured histories of empire, colonialism, and imperialism, and ask how we should approach the imperative of decolonisation.

  • Chair: Gurminder Bhambra (Sussex)
  • Provocateur: Robbie Shilliam (QMUL)
  • Interlocutor: Ayca Cubukcu (LSE)
  • Provocateur: Chris Moffat (QMUL)
  • Interlocutor: Vidya Kumar (Leicester).

11:30-11:45am coffee/tea break

Panel 4: 11:45am-1:15pm - Non-liberal/Alternative Registers of Freedom
This panel takes on the challenge of presenting understandings of freedom that move beyond the critique and the liberal imaginary. The panelists push back against the liberal imaginary and address several concerns that remain in the wake of critique: Does critique leaves us at an epistemic abyss? How do we pursue the ideal of freedom once hope in the liberal imaginary fades? What other epistemological/ontological tools are available that dislodge liberal freedom as the default position?

  • Chair: Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)
  • Provocateur: Ratna Kapur (QMUL)
  • Interlocutor: Ben Golder (UNSW)
  • Provocateur: Vanja Hamzic (SOAS)
  • Interlocutor: Rolando Vazquez (Utrecht University).


For directions to the venue, please refer to the map.

How to book

This event is free but prior booking is required. Register online via Eventbrite.


For more information on this event, please email

Photography, video and audio recording

School of Law events may be photographed or video and audio recorded. These materials will be used for internal and external promotional purposes only by Queen Mary University of London. If you object to appearing in the photographs, please let our photographer know on the day. Alternatively you can email in advance of the event that you are attending.

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