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Reclaiming the Radical in Universal Human Rights

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Universality as Universalisation

image of International Human Rights Law Review

The universality of human rights has been a fiercely contested issue throughout their history. This article contributes to scholarly engagements with the universality of human rights by proposing a re-engagement with this concept in a way that is compatible with the aims of radical politics. Instead of a static attribute or characteristic of rights this article proposes that universality can be thought of as, drawing from Judith Butler, an ongoing process of universalisation. Universality accordingly emerges as a site of powerful contest between competing ideas of what human rights should mean, do or say, and universal concepts are continually reworked through political activity. This leads to a differing conception of rights politics than traditional liberal approaches but, moreover, challenges such approaches. This understanding of universality allows human rights to come into view as potentially of use in interrupting liberal regimes and, crucially, opens possibilities to reclaim the radical in rights.

Affiliations: 1: Lecturer, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast, UK,


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