Universal Human Rights in a World of Difference

From the diverse work and often competing insights of women’s human rights activists, Brooke Ackerly has written a feminist and a universal theory of human rights that bridges the relativists’ concerns about universalizing from particulars and the activists’ commitment to justice. Unlike universal theories that rely on shared commitments to divine authority or to an ‘enlightened’ way of reasoning, Ackerly’s theory relies on rigorous methodological attention to difference and disagreement. She sets out human rights as at once a research ethic, a tool for criticism of injustice and a call to recognize our obligations to promote justice through our actions. This book will be of great interest to political theorists, feminist and gender studies scholars and researchers of social movements.

• A valuable contribution to the study of human rights arguing in favour of a very wide definition • Engages with key political theorists of the field, but focuses on the activities and views of people who fight for human rights on the ground • Links human rights to real world issues and activists


1. Universal human rights in a world of difference: challenging our thinking; Part I. Epistemology, Diversity, and Disagreement in Theory and Practice: 2. Universal human rights?; 3. Universalisms and differences; 4. Immanent and universal human rights: more legitimate than reasonable; Part II. A Methodology for Immanent Theory: 5. Feminist curb cutting: a methodology for exposing silences and revealing differences: immanent study of universal human rights; 6. Listening to the silent voices, hearing dissonance: a methodology for interpretation and analysis; Part III. Immanent Universal Human Rights: Theory and Practice: 7. An immanent and universal theory of human rights: curb cutting in theory; 8. Terrain(s) of difficulty: obligation, curb cutting, and problem-solving; 9. Feminist strategies: curb cutting in activism; 10. ‘If I can make a circle’.


‘As an activist I find Ackerly\'s theorizing of human rights in action so insightful. She gives a name to our approach - curb-cut feminism: by being humble and attentive to those made invisible or \'different\' by the mainstream we are better able to realize universal human rights. This book is a very useful map for anyone committed to justice in an often messy terrain.’ Joanna Kerr, former Executive Director of AWID, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development

‘A stunning achievement. Ackerly takes up the daunting - some would say insuperable - challenge of developing a universal theory of human rights that does not entail cultural imperialism. With the concerns of activists and politics of difference as her starting points, she thinks outside of the box that has limited our understanding of, and ability to realize, universal human rights. This extremely thoughtful and closely argued text will stimulate debate and, I hope, revitalize activism.’ V. Spike Peterson, Department of Political Science, University of Arizona