Set right on rights

April 30, 1999

Homi Bhabha ("Hybrid Bhabha", THES, March 19) did not deliver an objectionable lecture to a crowd of Amnesty activists.

He was giving one of the 1999 Oxford Amnesty Lectures. Our annual series relates to rights. As rights are philosophically controversial, they, and the political strategies of bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International, have often been problematised in our series as elsewhere.

All of our lecturers give their services free to raise awareness of, and funds, for the work of AI.

More to the point, Bhabha's critical discussion of Article of the Declaration of Human Rights pointed out how it was in danger of being counterproductive and restricting cultural rights to well-established cultures. This is not to "question the whole notion of human rights", but rather to demonstrate how well-intentioned liberals often find themselves denying rights to those in most need. Bhabha's central argument that we must respect, and where necessary defend, "the right to narrate" is not idle theory-speak, nor does it lack political charge.

We hold no particular brief for Bhabha. But we do seek to work against the kinds of unproductive oppositional thinking (activism/theory, celebrity academic/earnest listeners) that lay behind the feature. To offer such cliches as radical credentials is condescending and complacent. It is no use being complacent about rights. It is part of OAL's function to point this out.

The Organising Committee, Oxford Amnesty Lectures

to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments