Open World Empire: Rethinking Law, Culture, and Rights

John Nguyet Erni

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingConference proceedingpeer-review


The overall goal of this paper is to attempt to forge a connection among cultural studies,human rights discourse, and international law, in order to understand better the changing andcomplex political context that continuously reshapes social and political lives. At a time ofenormous uncertainties and egregious erosion of liberties, and given that the three fieldsabove share a common commitment to social justice theory and practice, this conceptual paper aims at constructing a new integrated framework of analysis underscored by the notionthat human rights are “a site of legal-cultural struggles.” By this, we mean to focus on twocritical dimensions. First, there is the dimension of human rights as transnational socialmovements of cultural politics. Human rights constitute an axis in a transnational range ofsocial movements. The mass organizing today are more likely than their predecessors in theCold War era to form an intricate collectivity capable of transforming the traditional fixed positions, whether it is the position of the peasant, the unionist, the migrant, the woman, theethnic minority, or even the intellectual. With “horizontal networking” as it modus operanti,this collectivity strives to link up various scales of social movements from different localesand regions, generating both planned and impromptu events to lend support to people andgroups that have been unjustly treated by the state, raise popular consciousness, opposerepressive policies, and stage direct actions. Second, there is the dimension of human rightsas a global legal apparatus. Social movements politicize and humanize the discourse of rights by paying attention to the life spaces of peoples and their everyday struggles. However, thisdoes not erase the importance of the institution of law that impacts upon those very lifespaces, nor does it suggest that social movements are always and everywhere opposed to thetools of law to create change. This conceptual paper’s ultimate aim is to mutually reframehuman rights and cultural studies, rearticulating them as symbiotic political and intellectual practices. On the one hand, it seeks to move human rights discourse beyond narrownormative and doctrinal practices, as well as contest its narrow definitions of culture and power. On the other hand, it hopes to take cultural studies somewhere it has largely stayedaway from – the domain of formalized institutional rules of engagement in general, andinternational human rights law in particular – and in so doing, open a door for criticalscholarship to flow.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication6th Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference Proceedings
Editors Tomorrow People Organization
Place of PublicationBelgrade
PublisherTomorrow People Organization
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9788687043695
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2019
Event6th Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference, PCRC 2019 - Aetas Bangkok Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
Duration: 15 Nov 201917 Nov 2019 (Conference website) (Conference proceedings)


Conference6th Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference, PCRC 2019
Internet address


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