Sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh
The 12th Biennial Public Address Conference to be hosted by the University of Pittsburgh on September 30 through October 2, 2010
Human Rights Rhetoric: Controversies, Conundrums, and Community Actions
Human rights have been asserted, recognized, reaffirmed, and undermined around the globe. Yet what the expression, “human rights,” designates and ought to encompass has been, and will continue to be, the subject of international controversy. At a concrete level, “rights” have a paradoxical quality that renders them contingent on individual, communal, and national commitments and actions.
Rights do not exist outside of their mutual recognition by selves
and others, that is, outside of a reconciliation of individual wills in
which people freely agree to act according to obligations that they simultaneously
expect of others. Once constituted in recognition, human rights may come
to compete with other rights that make similar claims to universal status.
To take a simple example, as numerous twentieth-century public advocates
have argued, the right to freedom of speech may come into conflict with
the likewise compelling rights to security of person and equality.
The fact that “human rights” is a locus of ongoing
controversy is especially evident within the history of public address
and rhetoric. We bring specific rights into focus when we talk about them;
or more specifically, when we address them before audiences or publics
willing to consider, recognize, support, enact, enforce, or undermine
and deny them. The theme of the conference invites discussion of how human
rights are addressed in political, legal, social, economic, and other
contexts. The scope of the discussion will include past, present, and
future public address concerning human rights within the United States
and internationally, considering both descriptive and critical dimensions.
Relevant questions would include how to identify a corpus of human rights
rhetoric that should be cultivated, expanded, or revised; what implications
the recent online technologies carry for the articulation, defense, or
constriction of rights; what changes globalization brings to the discourse
of rights; what pressures global economic changes put on workers’
and immigrants’ rights; recent governmental incursions into Constitutionally
protected rights in the US; the limits and possibilities of applying one
nation’s successful human rights rhetoric to another’s; the
place for articulating and defending human rights under the encroaching
pressures of corporatization; the questions raised about universality,
given differences of race, gender, ethnicity, and more; and what emerging
trends should be watched and studied by members of our scholarly community.
Professor Lester Olson
Department of Communication
University of Pittsburgh