Call for Papers: Conference on Multi- and Inter-Disciplinary Human Rights in Africa

Posted on January 18, 2011

Call for papers:Conference on Multi- and Inter-disciplinary Human Rights in Africa
Date: 2 - 3 June 2011
Venue: Pretoria, South Africa (Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria)
Background and aim of the Conference
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed upon in 1948, spearheaded a turn towards both human rights and human rights law. Subsequent standard-setting developments were characterised by the adoption of legally binding treaties at the global and regional levels; and of justiciable bills of rights in constitutions and enforceable anti-discrimination legislation at the national level. These predominantly legal frameworks were supported by an institutional network of human rights expert bodies and human rights lawyers. Numerous academic courses and programmes on human rights were developed, but mostly focused on law students and the legal dimensions of human rights. In short, the human rights discourse that emerged since 1948 came to be dominated by legal perspectives.

In more recent times, the dominance of the legal approach to human rights has increasingly been questioned.  An emerging view is that a legalistic perspective on human rights is too limiting and that both in academic and practical approaches to human rights, much stands to be gained by utilising multi- and inter-disciplinary perspectives. Disciplines that come to mind include: anthropology, cultural studies, economics, education, history, international relations/ international politics, literature, media studies, political science/ government, sociology and theatre/drama.

However, the teaching and practice of human rights law from a legalistic perspective is still dominant, particularly in most of Africa.

A Conference will therefore be held to provide an opportunity for academics to ponder and reflect on the benefits that other disciplines bring to the theory and practice of human rights. Although the possible range of ‘other disciplines’ may extend as far as the sciences and medicine, this Conference will focus on the social sciences and humanities.

The Conference will focus on two main sub-themes, and papers on each of these are invited:
  • The benefits or insights that specific disciplines may bring to human rights and human rights law (the need and advantages of going beyond the legalistic discourse on human rights, by showing how other disciplines may enrich this discourse)
  • Examples (case studies) of multi- and inter-disciplinary work on human rights law, with particular focus on the methodological approaches utilised
This Conference will coincide with the 25-year commemoration of the Centre for Human Rights, and marks a shift also in the approach of the Centre towards a more multi- and inter-disciplinary approach to human rights.

The Conference will benefit from the presence at the Centre in 2011 of Prof Richard Maiman, an American political scientist and Fulbright Scholar. The financial support of UPEACE assists us in hosting this conference.
Process: Potential presenters
  • Those interested in presenting a paper must submit an abstract.
  • An abstract must contain the proposed title and a brief (200 to 250 words) summary of the argument/ contribution of the paper.
  • Abstracts should be sent to [email protected] before 18 March 2011.
  • Authors of abstracts selected for presentation will be informed by 4 April 2011.
  •  All possible efforts will be made to ensure that the travel and accommodation costs of selected presenters are borne by the organisers.
  • A full presentation/ paper must be submitted before the Conference, by 23 May 2011, to be distributed electronically to other participants, and to be contained in the Conference file.
  • Each presenter will have 15 – 20 minutes to present his or her paper.  Discussion is encouraged, as the idea is that papers be made available to all participants beforehand.
  • Presenters will be expected to rework their papers after the Conference and resubmit final versions by 31 July 2011. 
  • The conference proceedings will be further peer-reviewed and published later in 2011.

Process: Participants
Anyone not presenting a paper may register as a participant.
Participants should register by sending an email containing their full names and contact details to [email protected]

Only presenters are financially supported. They are exempted from paying the conference fee; and in as many cases as possible their travel and accommodation costs will be borne by the organisers. The Conference registration fee is ZAR 500 (covering Conference file with papers, teas and lunches)(approximately $80). Registration fee is payable upon registration.
Travel and accommodation arrangements will be made for all presenters.
Other participants must please make their own travel and accommodation arrangements.

Tentative programme
2 June 2011:
Start at 08:30; Plenary address/ Opening; Tea at 10:30; Lunch at 13:00
This first day will be devoted to the insights that various disciplines bring to human rights and human rights law (papers on ‘Anthropology and Human Rights’, ‘Cultural Studies and Human Rights’ and ‘Economics and Human Rights’ etc)
3 June 2011:
Start at 08:30; Tea at 10:30; Lunch at 13:30
The second day will be devoted to case studies and examples of the application of multi- and inter-disciplinary research in respect of human rights

For any queries, please contact:
Ms Carole Viljoen: [email protected]

Detailed and updated information will be provided on the Centre’s website,

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