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Human Rights Centre: Seminar with Prof. Jessica Whyte "A Right to a Standard of Living: Social and Economic Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism" 14th June 2017

On Wednesday 14th June, 2017, the University of Padova Human Rights Centre will host a seminar with Professor Jessica Whyte from Western Sydney University. The seminar takes place within the field of Social and Economic Rights, titled: "A Right to a Standard of Living: Social and Economic Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism"and will take place in the Piergiorgio Cancellieri Library at 3pm

In 2015, human rights lawyer Philip Alston used his new position as the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Inequality to issue a “clarion call” to the human rights movement. Major human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been deeply reluctant to factor questions of distribution and resources into their advocacy, he charged, and consequently, the deep structures that perpetuate such inequalities have been left untouched. While reprimanding the human rights NGOs for their failure to address social and economic rights, Alston nonetheless argued against conflating what he termed these “lop-sided and counter-productive institutional choices” with the structure of human rights law. Economic and social rights are a key part of that structure, he argued, even if they are often treated as “minor league” and the United States has spent several decades trying to undermine them.

In this seminar, Prof. Whyte contests Alston’s claim by returning to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She examines the conflicts that led to Article Twenty-Five’s affirmation that everyone has a right to a “standard of living, and to social services adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.” She argues that the language of a “standard of living” allowed the re-framing of social and economic rights as flexible, governmental technologies, adaptable to the resources of an individual state and therefore not sufficiently absolute to licence international economic redistribution. The social and economic rights in the declaration, she suggests, were explicitly framed to rule out the forms of redistribution that would be necessary to challenge the extreme inequality that Alston diagnoses.

Jessica Whyte is Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney, Australia and an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow. Her work has been published in a range of fora including Law and Critique; Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development; Theory and Event; and Contemporary Political Theory. Her first monograph, Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben, was published by SUNY in 2013. Her forthcoming book, Governing Homo Economicus: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism will be published by Verso in 2018. She is currently working on a three-year Australian Research Council-funded project, “Inventing Collateral Damage: The Changing Moral Economy of War,” which aims to provide a novel philosophical account of the invention of the discourse of ‘collateral damage’. 

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