I. Translating Human Rights
What might we learn from studying how human rights discourse is used in various contexts? What does translating human rights mean, and what are the (often hidden) epistemological assumptions of translation attempts? Need human rights necessarily be embedded in Western-style (neo-)liberalism, or, as they travel, might they take on new meaning and power? How would/do such meanings affect traditional conceptions of human rights? What constitutes “progress” for human rights, and what final vision or utopia is implied in human rights discourse? What would it mean to think of human rights discourse as a means rather than an end? How would such thinking affect human rights activism?
Sovereignty and self-determination continue to play a surprisingly significant discursive and political role in today's human rights discourse. The concepts are invoked by countries like the United Sates and the UK as well as by some developing countries and by certain ethnic and indigenous groups. What might the different invocations have in common, and what might we learn by comparing them? What, if any, is the relationship between internal theories of sovereignty (relationship of the state to its own people) and external notions of sovereignty (state vis-à-vis other states)?
Those who claim asylum in one state generally need to prove that, if returned to their home country, they will suffer persecution based on a variety of prohibited classifications. Thus, they argue that the regimes they flee are repressive. In recent years, the basis of such oppression is often attributed to the dominant "culture" of the country of origin and the state's complicity in what is argued is a repressive culture. To what extent do such claims reinforce essentialized understandings of culture and of the populations that live in particular states? What are the effects of (mis)representations of culture with regard to individual claims, the development of asylum jurisprudence and political relations among states, as well as political struggles within them? Might they lead to claims of fraud against individuals who would hope to stay in the United States for reasons other than the fleeing of the persecution of their “culture”?