Is the human rights framework relevant to organizing for a new society today? Grassroots struggles using the language of human rights can be seen as democratising, decentralising movements that challenge the very authority of states as primary social actors responsible for granting us a basic, dignified quality of life. In winning short term improvements in the lives of people today, through struggle, we might hope to build deeper and larger movements which challenge current constructs of power, experimenting imaginatively with the creation of autonomous democratic pre-figurative spaces that embody new structures and relationships along the way. The language contained within international documents can be discursive tools (whether or not states have signed up to the documents or comply with them) portraying concepts of social justice, but it is also necessary to move beyond them. In pursuit of a social and international order in which 'rights' or needs and freedoms can be fully realized "every person must be an artist in this realm of social sculpture, social art or social architecture" (Beuys). Indeed, realizing human rights in the wake of crisis and austerity is tied to the construction of a different kind of society altogether. This requires imagination, which states--as stakeholders in the existing society--have failed to develop. But we might develop this social imagination collectively from below.
- Teacher: Harpreet Kaur Paul