Performative Rights and Situationist Ethics

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
Author: Joe Hoover1
View More View Less
  • 1 Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London,

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):


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.

  • Arendt Hannah . 1998. The Human Condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Arendt Hannah . 1994. “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy,” Social Research, 61, no. 4: 73964.

  • Brown Wendy . 1995. States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Butler Judith . 2009. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London and New York: Verso.

  • Butler Judith . 2005. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.

  • Butler Judith . 2004. Undoing Gender. New York & London: Routledge.

  • Connolly William E. 2005. Pluralism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Dewey John . 2012. The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dewey John . 2004. Reconstruction in Philosophy. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

  • Dewey John . 2003. Lectures on Ethics, 1900–1901. Edited by Donald F. Koch . Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

  • Dewey John . 2002. Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

  • Dewey John . 1957. Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics. New York, NY: Hilary House.

  • Dewey John . 1939. John Dewey and the Promise of America. Progressive Education Booklet 14. Columbus, OH: American Education Press.

  • Dewey John . 1929. Quest for Certainty. New York, NY: J.J. Little and Ives Company.

  • Dewey John . 1925. Experience and Nature. Chicago and London: Open Court Publishing Company.

  • Fesmire Steven . 2003. John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

  • Honig Bonnie . 2013. Antigone, Interrupted. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

  • Honig Bonnie . 2009. Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Honig Bonnie . 2008. “The Time of Rights: Emergent Thought in an Emergency Setting: The Paradox of Politics,” in The New Pluralism: William Connolly and the Contemporary Global Condition. Edited by David Campbell and Morton Schoolman . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 85120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Honig Bonnie . 2003. Democracy and the Foreigner. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Honig Bonnie . 1993. Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Hoover Joe . 2016. Reconstructing Human Rights: A Pragmatist and Pluralist Inquiry into Global Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Isin Engin . 2016. “Enacting International Citizenship,” in International Political Sociology: Transversal Lines. Edited by Tugba Basaran et al. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 185204.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zerilli Linda M.G. 2012. “Value Pluralism and the Problem of Judgment Farewell to Public Reason,” Political Theory, 40, no. 1: 631.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zerilli Linda M.G. 2005. “‘We Feel Our Freedom’ Imagination and Judgment in the Thought of Hannah Arendt,” Political Theory, 33, no. 2: 15888.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zivi Karen . 2012. Making Rights Claims: A Practice of Democratic Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Zivi Karen . 2008. “Rights and the Politics of Performativity,” in Judith Butler’s Precarious Politics: Critical Encounters. Edited by Terrell Carver and Samuel A. Chambers . London and New York: Routledge, pp. 15769.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 257 107 5
Full Text Views 38 10 1
PDF Views & Downloads 31 14 2