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LA381 - Writing Human Rights

Clashes with: LA355, LA236, LA367, LA357

This module will introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of human rights. In particular, the module will explore: (1) how we might read literary texts from the perspective of human rights discourse; (2) what literary critique can add to the study of human rights; and (3), the explanatory power of different modes of writing in the context of the law and politics of human rights.

The module will be self-reflexively critical, posing the question of whether human rights offer an efficacious and ethical framework that might yet revitalize the moral vision and political hopes of those committed to the autonomy, dignity, and liberation of peoples.

You will be given the opportunity to investigate and write about human rights related topics of your own choosing, working towards producing an assessment that is part creative writing and part critical analysis.

The module is divided into four interrelated themes (subject to change) which will illustrate questions of technique and style, competing political and media agendas, ethical dilemmas and legal constraints that those writing about human rights commonly face.

First, debates over slavery and freedom as articulated in literary sources will be used to introduce key themes that will run through the module as a whole. These themes will include ‘grass-roots’ versus ‘topdown’ histories of human rights, the notion of rights as a ‘gift’, and the relationship of equality and freedom.

Second, the theme of imprisonment and punishment will be explored in literary and theoretical writings addressing detention camps (Guantanamo Bay will be the primary case study here), the crisis of massincarceration, torture and capital punishment.

Third, drawing on the idea that the infliction of slow environmental violence, especially in the global South, constitutes a mass human rights violation, the module will consider the case study of the oil industry’s destruction of Ogoniland in the Niger Delta and the literary writing and activism of Ken Saro- Wiwa.

Fourth, the module will consider the debates surrounding ‘witness literature.’ Whether or not it is possible for literature to ‘bear witness’ and how writers of witness literature have sought to navigate the fraught relationship of historical trauma and aesthetic construction will be considered. NB: this module will be capped at 30 students (two seminar groups).

Assessment Method

100% coursework (creative writing essay: 3000 words and a critically reflective piece of 2000 words)