Human Rights: Critical Perspectives for the 21st Century – Editorial

In contemporary societies, predatory processes of economic globalization run parallel to contradictory processes of political and legal globalization, with the spread of multiple human rights discourses and practices across the globe. The emergence of new forms of power relations has been accompanied by the quest for related adjustments in the field of human rights. In this context, international human rights norms and discourses have been appropriated, transformed and/or contested by social groups, governments, intergovernmental organizations and even corporations in different regional, national and local contexts.

Partly as a result of these ongoing tensions, in recent decades Human Rights emerged as one of the most significant fields of academic and legal-political-cultural discourses. Legal, political, economic and cultural changes promoted by the process of globalization have contributed this scientific focus. However, dominant knowledge production of Human Rights that inform policies and politics at the local, regional and transnational levels, are hostage to a narrow understanding of human dignity, failing in their purpose of doing justice. They need to be reinvented in order to be useful in processes of transformation and recognition. Part of this task is contemplated in a critical perspective of Human Rights, one that values and validates human diversity and multiple belonging, ways of being in the world that escape the mainstream definitions of human and are therefore outside the realm of “universalism” advanced by hegemonic human rights.

This Special Issue is called Human Rights: Critical Perspectives for the 21st Century. It is the result of ongoing work by PhD candidates in the international doctoral programme Human Rights in Contemporary Societies, jointly offered by the Centre for Social Studies and the Interdisciplinary Research Institute of the University of Coimbra. The ten articles included in this publication cover a broad range of issues and geographical locations, reflecting the diversity of research interests and embodied experiences of their authors. In common they share the hope that the knowledge they are constructing, individually and as a collective, might contribute to a more inclusive, hence significant, understanding of human rights that will focus on counter-hegemonic subject positions and strive to make academia a relevant actor in the struggle against colonialism, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

Ana Cristina Santos

Bruno Sena Martins