Human Rights from the Bottom Up Conference

Starting Date: 04-02-2004
Ending Date: 04-03-2004

University Of Washington
Seattle, Washington 98195
United States
As part of its ongoing efforts to further the study of human rights at the University of Washington and to promote scholarly inquiry in the interdisciplinary law and society tradition, the Comparative Law and Society Studies Center plans to sponsor a human rights speaker series beginning spring 2003 and culminating during spring, 2004, with an international conference on the series theme, Human Rights “From the Bottom Up”.

Recent years have seen burgeoning interest in human rights on US university campuses and a growth in the scholarly literature relating to human rights themes. At the same time, however, existing approaches to the subject are often dominated by a “top-down” political/institutional approach which explores human rights issues through analyses of the functioning, or lack thereof, of elite-centered legal and political institutions in various contexts. This abundant literature has advanced our understanding of many human rights quandaries, and indeed has been very influential in policy circles, helping to lend support for international initiatives aimed at furthering the rule of law. However, some scholars have begun to point to the need for a more contextualized, “bottom up” understanding of human rights from the perspective of the individuals and communities in whom rights are vested – and particularly of those in marginalized communities, whose rights are most frequently violated.

As the leading center for law and society studies in the U.S. with a significant commitment to comparative/international research, featuring the only cluster of human rights scholars within in an interdisciplinary law and society program, CLASS considers itself uniquely poised to address these issues. Our scholarship poses such questions as: What are the sources of violence that infuse culture in specific settings, such as in post-colonial societies? How are rights and justice imagined by victims, rather than defined by exogenous political and legal elites? How important are factors of trust and legitimacy, and how can these be constructed in societies with high levels of violence or ethnic exclusion? What is the working relationship between international human rights groups and indigenous populations, and how much does this matter struggles for change? How are global human rights directives absorbed and reconfigured in specific and localized communities? These are just some of the types of questions concerning human rights, emphasizing culture and agency “on the ground,” that we consider. Research and discussion of these important issues may shed light on what remains a puzzling question after the work of so many top-down theorists: how do we understand disjunctions between the formal adoption of liberal democratic legal norms and the widespread continued violation of individuals’ most basic rights? Are so many splendid Constitutions dead-letter promises?

Sponsored by: The Comparative Law and Society Studies (CLASS) Center, Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, and the Bartley Dobb Endowment for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
Geographical Scope: Regional

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