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Identities, Politics, and Rights

Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns, Editors

Publication Year: 1996

The subject of rights occupies a central place in liberal political thought. This tradition posits that rights are entitlements of individuals by virtue of their personhood and that rights stand apart from politics, that rights in fact hold at bay intrusions of state policy. The essays in Identities, Politics, and Rights question these assumptions and examine how rights constitute us as subjects and are, at the same time, implicated in political struggles. In contrast to the liberal notion of rights' universality, these essays emphasize the context-specific nature of rights as well as their constitutive effects. Recognizing that political disputes throughout the world have increasingly been cast as arguments about rights, the essays in this volume examine the varied roles that rights play in political movements and contests. They argue that rights talk is used by many different groups primarily because of its fluidity. Certainly rights can empower individuals and protect them from their societies, but they also constrain them in other areas. Frequently, empowerment for one group means disabling rights for another group. Moreover, focusing on rights can both liberate and limit the imagination of the possible. By alerting us to this paradox of rights--empowerment and limitation--Identities, Politics, and Rights illuminates ongoing challenges to rights and reminds us that rights can both energize political engagement and provide a resource for defenders of the status quo. Contributors are Richard Abel, Bruce Ackerman, Wendy Brown, John Comaroff, Drucilla Cornell, Jane Gaines, Thomas R. Kearns, Elizabeth Kiss, Kirstie McClure, Sally Merry, Martha Minow, Austin Sarat, and Steven Shiffrin. Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College. Thomas R. Kearns is William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy, Amherst College.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Identities, Politics, and Rights brings together essays that were first presented at a conference entitled "The Paradoxes of Rights." That conference, which was held at Amherst College in November 1992, took as one of its themes the need to reconsider liberal theories of...

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Editorial Introduction

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pp. 1-17

As is now widely recognized, the subject of rights occupies an important place in liberal political thought. 1 Various strands of liberalism find the justification for rights in nature, in utility, or in the demands of justice and fairness,2 but, throughout, liberal discourse about rights...

Part 1: Rights and the Constitution of the Self

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pp. 19-236

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Bodily Integrity and the Right to Abortion

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pp. 21-83

In this chapter, I will argue that the right to abortion must be guaranteed, as it is absolutely essential to the establishment of the minimum conditions for individuation. 1 My argument will proceed as follows: First, I will argue that the right to abortion should be treated as an...

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Rights and Identity in Late Modernity: Revisiting the "Jewish Question"

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pp. 85-130

What is the emancipatory force of rights claims on behalf of politicized identities in late-twentieth-century North American political life? If, historically, rights have been claimed to secure formal emancipation...

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Reincarnation as the Ring on Liz Taylor's Finger: Andy Warhol and the Right of Publicity

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pp. 131-148

What I want to do here is to look at a productive coincidence-the coincidence of the life and work of Andy Warhol and the development of a peculiarly American right-the right of publicity. In 1954, following the important U.S. Supreme Court decision in...

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Taking Liberties in Foucault's Triangle: Sovereignty, Discipline, Governmentality, and the Subject of Rights

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pp. 149-192

By repetition across time and place old slogans have a way of taking on new meanings, new referents and resonances, new implications. With the emergence of what Tocqueville called "the democratic revolution" and, more particularly, with its articulation through the...

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The Discourse of Rights in Colonial South Africa: Subjectivity, Sovereignty, Modernity

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pp. 193-236

It has become commonplace to note the centrality of law in the colonization of the non-European world; commonplace to assert "its" role in the fashioning of new Eurocentric hegemonies, in the creation of colonial subjects, in the rise of various forms of resistance1 - vide, lately, Mann and Roberts's excellent...

Part 2: Rights in Political Struggles

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pp. 237-423

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Nothing Left but Rights: Law in the Struggle against Apartheid

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pp. 239-270

The struggle against apartheid was one of the great moral dramas of the twentieth century. Rarely have good and evil been so unambiguous, the stakes so high, and the conflict so long, bitter, and costly. Race (and gender) has dominated history since World War I almost as much as...

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Wife Battering and the Ambiguities of Rights

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pp. 271-306

In 1990, George Wailea walked into the courtroom of the Family Court in Hilo, the county seat of the island of Hawai'i, feeling very alone. He felt shame and isolation, as he had earlier when a police officer handed him a form which said that his wife was accusing him of...

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The First Amendment and the Meaning of America

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pp. 307-345

Political pundits often proclaim the view that conservatives know how to tap into American values in a way that progressives do not. Consider this tiny masterpiece from Patrick Buchanan: "The arts crowd is after more than our money, more than an end to the...

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Rights and Cultural Difference

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pp. 347-365

Political pundits and scholars alike call the end of this turbulent century a period of renewed tribalism. It would be hard to deny the salience of conflicts among ethnic and religious groups around the globe, including the fight between French- and English-speaking...

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Is Nationalism Compatible with Human Rights? Reflections on East-Central Europe

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pp. 367-402

A specter is haunting the new world order: the specter of violent and exclusionary nationalism. It alarms and discomfits those on both sides of recent debates over the validity of universal norms of justice and rights. Universalists who saw the collapse of communism and the rise...

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The Next American Revolution / Bruce Ackerman

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pp. 403-423

From Warsaw to Moscow, Johannesburg to Beijing, a specter haunts the world, as if risen from the grave-the return of revolutionary, democratic liberalism. There is, it would appear, only one revolution-free zone that has gained a remarkable...


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pp. 425


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pp. 427-439

E-ISBN-13: 9780472023776
E-ISBN-10: 0472023772
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472084739
Print-ISBN-10: 0472084739

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 1996

Series Title: The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought