CFP: Human Rights Now: Texts, Contexts, Comparisons

Anti-apartheid activist, Bishop Desmond Tutu, explained the African concept of “Ubuntu” in this way: “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.” If connection is a way of being human, our actions impact others – human, animal, nature – and return to us in ways we cannot predict. Exploring the interconnectedness of humanity, humaneness, and human rights through texts, contexts, and comparisons, we invite papers for the 50th Annual Texas Tech University Comparative Literature Symposium on April 6-7, 2018.


The moral and legal claims of people caught in situations of civil and military conflict, natural calamities, climate change, medical crises, governmental repression, and the vagaries of international finance on local economies, have long been the subject of literature. Claims for fairness, respect, and human dignity have been expressed in many forms and genres, including agitational propaganda theatre, performance poetry, the revisionary bildungsroman, narco-, petro-and climate fiction, war narratives, prison writing, and the testimonio.


Human rights in its moral, political, social, and literary ramifications has been mired in debate. The generic variety of literature on the topic is matched by varying emphases in its theorizations. John Rawls and Charles Beitz outline the political conception of human rights in contemporary international practice. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum delineate the “capabilities” approach, which focuses on the availability of opportunities, freedoms, abilities, and material factors responsible for human welfare and achievements. Another strand of scholarship based in the work of feminist philosophers Nancy Fraser, Judith Butler, María Lugones, and Linda Alcoff has shown the racial and gender assumptions in the concept of the human and called for a critical evaluation of rights claims from these perspectives. For some the concept universalizes the “human” in Eurocentric terms to re-enact, in Anibal Quijano and Walter Mignolo’s terms, the “coloniality of power.” Often nation-states grossly violate human rights under the pretext of national security imperatives disregarding international protocols and accepted understandings of the dignity, value, and worth of human life. If dignity and worth are assumed to be categorical rather than relative and contextualized imperatives then accountability for human rights becomes a contested terrain.


Our symposium invites papers on literature, film, media, history, philosophy, and theory that illuminate some of these issues. Fiction, drama, memoirs, journalistic reportage, poetry, and philosophical accounts represent various responses to the globalized vocabulary of human rights. Some contemporary topics the papers may address are:


  • Texts and contexts of anti-colonial resistance movements such as those in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean
  • Representations of civil, regional, ethnic, racial, and tribal conflict in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas
  • Popular and academic discourse about displacement, movement, immigration, and the refugee crisis
  • Oral history, reports, films, music, letters, diaries, and memoirs about major wars over the past century such as the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Gulf Wars, including national responses and international responsibilities amid the “wars” on terror
  • Manifestoes, prison narratives, epistolary communication, testimonies, websites, and social media in environmental struggles against the thirst for oil such as the Movement for the Struggle of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in Nigeria, the U’Wa Defense Working group in Colombia, and Standing Rock in the United States
  • Real and virtual communities such as Black Lives Matter, One Billion Rising, and Bring Home Our Girls’ representation of the value and worth of human lives in the face of violence
  • International groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights First, the International Human Rights Commission, the Red Cross and others facilitating rights and creating a corporatist rights agenda
  • The role of public humanities and public intellectuals in creating awareness about social justice and human rights.


There are no registration fees for this conference.

Please submit 300-word abstracts by January 15,, 2018 to Dr. Kanika Batra, Department of English, Texas Tech University at Paper presenters will be informed if proposals are accepted by February 15th. The conference will take place on April 6-7, 2018 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas (USA).