Performative Rights and Situationist Ethics

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
Joe Hoover Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London,

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Recent critiques of rights have enabled alternative understandings of their role in contemporary politics. In this article, I focus on the emergence of a performative understanding of rights, which conceptualises rights claims as reiterative acts that remake the protections and privileges marked out by rights. This promising reconstruction of rights requires a rethinking of the ethical justification of rights claims. If rights claims are creative political acts, rather than especially important duties, a justification focused on certainty and constraint will not do. Yet, we must still ask: what is a good rights claim? I argue, first, that a performative account of rights requires an ethical justification that embraces contingency while still providing an account of good political creativity, and, second, that focusing on the use of normative claims to address specific problems, which I term a situationist ethics—drawing on the philosophy of John Dewey, provides better grounding for performative rights claims.

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