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How Demanding Should Human Rights Be? An Interdisciplinary Workshop

October 13-14, 2017
9:30am - 6:00pm
Harris Hall 108, 1881 Sheridan Road (Northwestern University, Evanston Campus)

We welcome interested faculty and graduate students. Please write to Sarah Peters ( so that you can access the papers in advance. We expect participants and audience members to read papers in advance, since there will be no formal presentation of papers.

human rights workshop

human rights schedule

International human rights are classically understood to be “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” (Preamble, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). However, it is unclear how demanding international human rights standards should be taken to be. Should they be understood as minimal standards of treatment below which no State can fall without strong international condemnation, or are they co-extensive with ambitious and ideal demands to which all States should strive and whose achievement may require strong international cooperation?

This two-day workshop will bring together top scholars in the field of international human rights law and philosophy to debate these important normative and political questions. A local audience of scholars and practitioners will be invited to participate in the discussion as well. A particular emphasis will be placed on the real-world implications, legal or not, of these abstract moral questions about human rights and on the interaction of human rights, globalization in general, and global capitalism. Participants will provide full papers in advance of the workshop. Since this is a workshop format, all participants will be required to read all the papers in advance, and each discussion period will begin with a commentary on the assigned paper. All speakers will also function as commentators.


Cristina Lafont (Northwestern University)
Samantha Besson (University of Fribourg)
Karen J. Alter (Northwestern University)

Invited Participants:

Karen J. Alter (Northwestern University)
Elizabeth Ashford (University of St. Andrew’s)
Samantha Besson (University of Fribourg)
Eva Brems (University of Ghent)
James Cavallaro (Stanford University, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights)
Jean Cohen (Columbia University)
Adam Etinson (University of St. Andrew’s)
Andreas Follesdal (University of Oslo)
Pablo Gilabert (Concordia University)
Dieter Grimm (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin & Yale University, former Constitutional Court Judge)
Turkuler Isiksel (Columbia University)
Cristina Lafont (Organizer, Northwestern University)
George Letsas (University College, London)
Christopher McCrudden (Queen’s University, Belfast & Michigan University)
James W. Nickel (Miami University)
Françoise Tulkens (Catholic University of Louvain, former judge at European Court of Human Rights)

Sponsors: Global Capitalism & Law research group (Buffett Institute), Critical Theory Cluster, Kreeger Wolf Foundation, EDGS (Buffett Institute), Political Science Department, Philosophy Department, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Pluricourts, University of Oslo University of Fribourg

Past Critical theory Conferences

2016 Critical Theory in Critical Times Workshop

A discussion with Axel Honneth on Freedom's Right

November 11, 2016
3pm - 6:30pm
Harris Hall 107, 1881 Sheridan Road (Northwestern University, Evanston Campus)
Reception to follow

The 2016 Critical Theory in Critical Times annual series workshop will focus around the work of Axel Honneth (University of Frankfurt and Columbia University, Philosophy) and, in particular, his book Freedom's Right (Columbia Univ. Press, 2014). Axel Honneth will discuss his book with three commentators: Prof. Penny Deutscher (Northwestern University, Philosophy); Prof. Joshua Kleinfeld (Northwestern University, Law); Prof. Fred Neuhouser (Columbia University, Philosophy); and William Scheuerman (Indiana University, Political Science). This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication; Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; Department of Philosophy; Department of German and the Critical Theory Cluster.

Poster | Program

Preparatory Reading Session for Interested Faculty & Graduate Students

November 3, 2016
TGS Commons, 2122 Sheridan Road, Seabury 140
Refreshments will be served

2015 Critical Theory in Critical Times Workshop

November 13, 2015
TGS Commons
Seabury 140
2122 Sheridan Rd.

Preparatory Reading Session for Interested Faculty & Graduate Students

November 5, 2015
Harris 108
Refreshments will be served

The 2015 Critical Theory in Critical Times annual series workshop will focus around the work of Wendy Brown (Professor of Political Science at University of California, Berkeley) and, in particular, her new book Undoing the Demos (Zone Books, 2015). Wendy Brown will discuss her book with three commentators: Prof. Patchen Markell (U of Chicago, pol sci), Prof. Annie McClanahan (UWM, English), and Prof. Antonio Vázquez-Arroyo (Rutgers U at Newark, pol sci) (see the attachments for more details about the book and event). This event is a joint initiative of the Center for Global Culture and Communication and the Critical Theory Cluster.

The workshop will allow for a comfortable discussion format, and a stimulating dialogue between faculty and graduate students. We are glad to offer an opportunity to discuss a groundbreaking work in which Wendy Brown provides an incisive analysis and devastating critique of the way neoliberal rationality its hollowing out democracy itself, and calls for forms of popular politics that may restore the promise of radical democracy.

We would like to invite expressions of interest from faculty and graduate students to form a small reading group to meet, at least once, in advance of the workshop. We will supply PDF’s or copies of the book- the commitment is to read one chapter, and meet once in advance of the workshop. We are planning the meeting for Thursday, November 5, 6-8pm, Harris 108. Dinner will be served!

The meeting will take one of two formats, either all agreeing to read one chapter of the work and discuss it together, or, as we did last year with Brunkhorst's book, each of a small group agreeing to take one chapter, and present it in ten minutes. In responding, please feel free to specify the format you would prefer. This advance ‘prep’ event will be introduced and led by Dilip Gaonkar and Cristina Lafont.

2014-15 CTCT Workshop: Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions. A Discussion with Hauke Brunkhorst

Poster | Program

May 2014: Inaugural Critical Theory in Critical Times Workshop: Keynote Address by Jürgen Habermas

Poster | Program

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