Re-Imagining Human Rights –
The Challenge of Agency, Creativity, and Global Justice

Conference Co-Sponsored by Critical Sociology, The Society for the Study of Social Problems,  the Human Rights Section of the American Sociological Association, George Mason University's Consortium on Global Problem Solving  and Office of Global and International Strategies, the University of California, Davis' Office of University Outreach and International Programs and Department of Sociology, and
the University of Connecticut's Human Rights Institute

August 12, 2013 (8:45 am to 5:00 pm)
The Westin New York at Times Square
9th Floor
New York, NY

Twitter: @ReimaginingHR
Facebook: Reimagining Human Rights
SSSP website:

Preliminary Program

This one-day conference on “Re-imagining Human Rights” invites scholars and practitioners to discuss the challenge of power and inequalities embedded in current institutional arrangements and practices of human rights.

The production of human rights is not immune to the effects of inequalities across the global North and South. Conference panels will highlight projects or research within local, regional, and transnational contexts that offer insight for democratizing the production of human rights.  Do understandings of justice in the Global South meaningfully shape those institutionalized as human rights, or do human rights in the name of “global justice” flow only from the North to the South?  Does the social organization upon which transnational solidarity links actors across communities of the Global North and South reflect the human rights values that they pursue?  What is the quality of the social relationships upon which such solidarities are formed?  To what extent is the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship of NGOs “measured” and constrained by the performative expectations of philanthropic donors and impact investment brokerages that provide the resources for their human rights work?  How do our understandings of human agency and personhood shape the (re)production and (trans)formation of human rights?

We are particularly interested in learning from organizations and practices founded in the global South or affiliated transnational partnerships. In the shadow of the United Nations, the conference also will devote special attention to grassroots human rights projects and collaborative alliances operating in New York City. Participants will engage in a transnational dialogue and reflexive engagement across scholarly and activist communities (though not exclusive categories). Thus, the role of a common human rights imagination, or multiple co-existing human rights imaginations, may be a starting point for a new dialogue on academic and other approaches.

To download a PDF version of the Preliminary Program, click here.

Conference Schedule

Coffee: 8:30 – 9:00am

Opening Plenary: 9:00 – 9:20am

Welcoming Remarks from Conference Co-organizers:

Human Rights and the Sociology of the Imagination”

John G. Dale /George Mason University and David J. Kyle /University of California, Davis

Keynote Speakers: 9:20-10:00am Camilo Pérez-Bustillo and Karla Hernandez Mares, Human Rights from Below: Indigenous Peoples, Migration, Poverty, and Human Rights

Camilo Pérez-Bustillo is Research Professor of the Graduate Program in Human Rights and the Faculty of Law, Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM) since April 2006, and was from 1993 to 2002 Research Professor at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM). He is currently a visiting researcher (February to May 2013), as part of his sabbatical year (March 2013 to March 2014), pursuant to a SPIRE Fellowship at the University of Bergen, Norway, hosted by the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP).

Karla Hernandez Mares is a documentary photographer and video producer who has worked closely in Mexico with the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center and the Mexican section of Amnesty International in one of the regions (the Highlands of Guerrero) in Mexico where grassroots movements have flourished in response to militarization pursuant to the so-called "drug war" and the depredations of mega-projects related to mining and hydro-electricity.

Pearl Room
Panel 1A:Human Personhood and the State of Human Rights

10:15am – 12:00pm

Discussant:      John Dale /George Mason University


“The Transnational Challenge: Why the Human Rights Paradigm Cannot Save the World (or Even Itself)”

Tomer Shadmy /Tel Aviv University

“International Relations in a Community of Human Rights States”

Benjamin Gregg /University of Texas at Austin and Europa Universität Viandrina, Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany

“International Human Rights for Refugees: The Difficult Case of Xenophobic Discrimination”

Tendayi Achiume / University of California, Los Angeles

“Reconstructing the Human: How Social Justice Initiatives Can Re-Imagine Anti-racist Strategies”

Camille Solá /George Washington University

Plymouth Room
Panel 1B:The Human Rights Enterprise: The History and Future of Human Rights as Revolutionary Praxis

10:15am – 12:00pm

Discussant:      Davita Glasberg /University of Connecticut, Associate Dean of Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Gladstein (Human Rights) Committee Member


“The Human Rights Enterprise, Human Rights Praxis, and Struggles to End the Global ‘War on Drugs’”

William T. Armaline /San Jose State University

“Beyond Co-optation: Shadow Reports, Funding, and Human Rights Praxis”

Shweta Adur, Roseanne Njiru, Bandana Purkayastha, and Farhan Yusaf (equal co-authors) /University of Connecticut.

“Direct Action as Guarantor: Food Justice and the Human Rights Enterprise”

Deric Shannon /San Jose State University

“Undoing the Reasonable Middle: Gender and Sexuality in the Anti-austerity Movements and the Human Rights Enterprise”

Abbey Willis /University of Connecticut

“Doing Human Rights: The Human Rights Enterprise as a Model for Studying Grassroots Level Activism”

Barret Katuna /University of Connecticut

Lunch Break: Noon – 12:45pm

Pearl Room
Panel 2A: Beyond Hegemonic Human Rights?

1:00pm – 2:15pm


“Human Rights Industry: Humanitarian Imperialism Toward the Global South”

Tugrul Keskin /Portland State University

“The Rise of Human Rights in the Citizenship Discourse among Religious Minorities in Egypt”

Hyun Jeong Ha /University of Texas at Austin

“Hijacking Rights: Using Local Context and Language to Refigure Human Rights Demands in the Arab Uprisings”

Nev Dzamonja /Columbia University

“The Human Rights of Empty Persons: Buddhist Any-foundationalism and the Dalai Lama’s New Conception of Human Rights”

Christopher Kelley /Columbia University

Plymouth Room
Panel 2B: Locating Human Rights: Values, Institutions, and Creative Action

1:00pm – 2:15pm


“Human Rights: How and Where Do We Learn What They Are?”

Judith Blau /Director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro (North Carolina) and Former Chair of the Human Rights Section of the American Sociological Association

“Building a Rights-Based Framework in “Non-Immigration” Regimes: Ethnography of Labor Migrants’ Rights Activism in Israel and Singapore”

Nelly Kfir /Tel Aviv University

“Interpretive Communities, Contesting Rights”

Ishita Sharma /Columbia University

“Whose Imagination Is It Anyway? Tomatoes, Agricultural Labor, and Border Crossing Creativity”

Melissa Gouge /George Mason University

Pearl Room
Panel 3A: Social Agency and the Cultural Work of Global Justice

2:30pm – 3:45pm


“From Principle to Pragmatism: The Motivational Life Cycle of Transnational Democracy and Human Rights Movements”

Tsveta Petrova /Harriman Institute at Columbia University

“Constructing Themselves as Rights-Bearing Subjects”

Federico Oliveri /Sciences for Peace Interdisciplinary Centre, University of Pisa, Italy

“Human Rights and Participatory Democracy in Venezuela”

Anderson Bean /George Mason University

“Collaborative Barriers and Cultural Brokers: Competing Conceptions of Gender Equality and Human Rights in Norte de Potosi, Bolivia”

Jenny Cockburn /University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Plymouth Room
Panel 3B: (Re)Capturing the Range Imagination: Reflexive, Rational, and Measured Creativity

2:30pm – 3:45pm

Discussants:    David Kyle /University of California, Davis and John Dale /George Mason University


“Eyes in the Sky: Satellite Technology and Human Rights”

Virginia K. Dixon /The Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University

“Picturing Atrocity”

Anna Gaarde /Columbia University

“Intervention and Non-Intervention on the Way to U.S. Same-Sex Marriage: African Sanctions, Trans* Employment, and Political Cost Containment Via Human Rights Globalism”

A.J. Juskewycz /Princeton University

Pearl Room
Panel 4A: The Multiple Dimensions and Principles of Global Justice

4:00pm – 5:15pm


“Re-conceptualizing Transitional Justice”

Matiangai Sirleaf /University of Pennsylvania

“From Victims to Actors: Participation, Agency, and Power in Transitional Justice Processes”

Simon Robins /Independent practitioner, researcher, and consultant who holds a Ph.D. from the Post-War Reconstruction Unit of York University, United Kingdom

“Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, and Social Power: Evaluating Principles of Justice in the Adjudication of Sao Paulo’s Water Conflicts”

LaDawn Haglund /Arizona State University

Plymouth Room
Panel 4B: Interrogating Expert Knowledge: The Making (and Unmaking) of Torture as a Human Rights Violation

4:00pm – 5:15pm


“How Torture Became a Violation of Human Rights: Expert Knowledge and State Cruelty in the Twentieth Century”

Lisa Stampnitzky /Harvard University

“Policing, Violence and Justice: Understanding Police Response to Human Rights Education in India”

Rachel Wahl /New York University