Research Seminar. Presentation of Research Project
Our postdoctoral fellow Carl Wilén presents the overarching purpose of his project on human rights, social movements and the abolition of slavery in the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), as well as an early draft of his first article within the project. Associate Professor Joachim Östlund will be commentator. If you would like to read the article before the seminar, please send an email to email@example.com
The Haitian Revolution between 1791 and 1804, when the enslaved class rebelled against France and abolished slavery, has recently become a touchstone in discussions about the history of human rights. According to what has been called the ‘deep genealogy’, the Haitian Revolution represents an exemplary case of the ‘inner logic of human rights’. The ‘revisionist genealogy’ instead contends that rights played no role at all in the Haitian Revolution, and that human rights, in the 20th-century meaning of the term, were fully absent in the broader revolutionary context. While both genealogies agree that human rights can only be meaningfully investigated in their proper institutional settings and in the context of social movements, they lack a conceptual apparatus adopted for their purpose and rely on secondary sources. In the present article, I target the debates about the history of human rights, both theoretically and historically. Theoretically, I demonstrate that while the deep genealogy involves a broad definition of human rights and assumes that they have an inherent effectiveness and independence from social power and interests, the revisionist genealogy involves a narrow definition and assumes that human rights are ineffective and dependent on the interests and intentions of social actors. By developing a conceptual apparatus built on revolution and social movement theory, I reconstruct the two different conceptions of human rights into an integrated approach with the capacity to address the lack of theoretical precision and original sources in both genealogies. Historically, I make use of my reconstruction to investigate whether the Haitian Revolution should be included as a central case in the history of human rights. More specifically, I focus on the ’movement texts’ of the Haitian Revolution – publicly announced texts in the movement’s name, which require the support of the revolutionary base – as a part of its collective identity. The collective identity is related to the movement’s social origin, its collective acts, and the repression it faced. Moreover, by studying the rarely noticed labor decrees alongside canonized movement texts, the article contributes with a combined focus on rights and inequality. By illustrating the strengths of the methodological design, the study also offers an outline to an approach to human rights history in general.