In her recently published book, Sumi Madhok tells a different story of worldmaking around rights and human rights. This is a story of vernacular rights cultures. These stories of vernacular rights cultures refuse the racialised, originary and binary global human rights talk or what Madhok calls the ‘politics of origins’. They interrupt the originary, statist, institutional and Eurocentric stories that global human rights likes to tell about itself. The stories of vernacular rights cultures foreground the struggles for rights and justice by subaltern groups in ‘most of the world’. These are stories of the critical conceptual vocabularies, subaltern mobilisations, and of conflictual gendered politics of rights; they are stories of the struggles for economic redistributive justice but also for representational justice; and, they are stories of conceptual diversity, of oppositional politics of protest against authoritarianism, and, of the political imaginaries that animate subaltern rights politics but also open up different futures and possibilities for rights and human rights around the globe.
Importantly, the stories of vernacular rights cultures signal that a theoretical and philosophical critique of global human rights alone cannot account for the life-worlds of subaltern struggles for rights and entitlements, or indeed for the critical vocabulary and political grammar within which these struggles and demands are articulated. For, quite simply, the terms of the critique of global human rights have been such that these end up resurrecting and reproducing the object of their critiques, ‘West’ as the subject via critique, while also simultaneously reproducing the global inequalities of ‘West’. Critiques of global human rights, though useful and significant in demystifying the constellations of power and their entanglements must only be the starting point for the production of new intellectual and conceptual histories, geographies and epistemologies of rights from different locations, including subaltern locations around the globe.
About the Speaker
Sumi Madhok is Professor of Political Theory and Gender Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her most recent book is titled: Vernacular Rights Cultures: The Politics of Origins, Human Rights and Gendered Struggles for Justice ( 2021). She is also the author of Rethinking Agency: Gender, Developmentalism and Rights (2013) and the co-editor of Gender, Agency and Coercion (2013), and The Sage Handbook of Feminist Theory (2014).