The essay responds to the pervasive appeals to rights discourse during the 2007 Nairobi workshop on "Disability, Culture, and Human Rights." Taking its point of departure from Wendy Brown's rethinking of rights discourse in States of Injury, as well as from a range of recent texts that seek to reopen the presuppositions informing the role of rights in relation to concepts of state sovereignty and contemporary globalization, the essay seeks to outline a number of questions and problems concerning rights in contexts of disability. In addressing the conflicts and paradoxes opened up between rights as human and universal and rights as geopolitically circumscribed and historically contingent, the essay argues that it is these same conflicts and paradoxes that shape and even over-determine the workshop's initiative to reconfigure the 2003 Disability Act in Kenya.

Prompted by the title of our workshop — "Disability, Culture, and Human Rights" — the question of rights clearly dominated the first day of our discussions.1 In his welcoming remarks to the participants, Kimani Njogu suggested from the very outset that exploring disability from a rights-based perspective "makes it easier to cover some of the problems" confronting persons with disabilities in Kenya. Indeed, the theme on rights was central in three of the four objectives proposed for the workshop itself: 1) to explore the rights of persons with disabilities with regard to education, employment, access and mobility, public transport, gender, language, and social life; 2) to examine the strengths and weaknesses of Persons with Disabilities Act from 2003, and propose improvements; and 3) to identify the legislation and by-laws that guide architects and designers of buildings and motor vehicles and make appropriate recommendations.

The first morning's presentations took up this challenge in a number of important and decisive ways. Focusing almost exclusively on the question of rights as they shape legislation and policy on both the local and international levels, we heard presentations from a number of government representatives, policy makers, as well as consultants to the drafting of the 2003 Disability Act itself. Juliet Kola's welcoming remarks on behalf of the Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture, and Social Services emphasized Kenya's unusual and prominent role as an African nation in having a Disability Act, including its signing of the U.N. Conventions on Persons with Disabilities. Kibaya Laibuta, a consultant with the Kenya Law Reform Commission, reflected on the need to review the Disability Act, notably in the context of international standards that "mark the benchmark of rights and legislation today." Fatuma Dullo, from the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPWD), spoke on the sections from the Act that have been implemented and those which await implementation. Lawrence Mute, one of the Commissioners of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, insisted on Kenya's influential role in negotiating the International Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities. As a fitting conclusion to the workshop, Willy Mutunga (himself a prominent human rights lawyer and founder of the Kenya Human Rights Commission) echoed the opening day's presentations by reasserting the pivotal role of rights in any future discussions of disability.

The institutional backgrounds of these speakers gave the reference to rights discourse a degree of both legitimacy and urgency on the first day, setting both the tone and conceptual necessity of rights discourse for the ensuing presentations and discussions. Further, references to rights repeatedly punctuated the remaining presentations as well, in spite of a much wider display of the participant's institutional backgrounds at the non-governmental and local level (NGOs, CBOs, educators, activists, private sector, etc.). Three brief asides from the past few days might be considered significant here. The first was Lubna Mazrui's response to Nina Berman's insistence (elaborated in her essay included in this issue of DSQ) that we also take into account local knowledges in dealing with disability rather than merely rely on and reproduce forms of Western medical discourse. As Lubna Mazrui argued, if local knowledges have not changed much over time, rights arguments have helped us "progress more quickly." In reference to persons with disabilities in the refugee camps, Michael Karanja also argued (again in his essay included in this issue of DSQ) that an increased "awareness of rights" would lead to more demands by persons with disabilities. The same argument found echoes in Elizabeth Orchardson's discussion of disability and gender when she asserted: "human rights issues have really advanced our cases as women." (Before returning to the issue at the end of my remarks, I want to note in parenthesis that it is not a question of opposing such responses but of taking into account the presupposition that binds rights in their immediacy and transparency to a specific model of progress. In other words, what remains at stake here is not so much a progressive politics that governs the continual expansion of social, civic, and political rights to address myriad forms of injustice but a politics of means governed and pre-determined by ends).

Reference to rights also shaped much of the discussion that focused on the fourth objective for the workshop, which asked us to "identify cultural and social values that perpetuate stigmatization and discrimination of PWDs in Kenya." In this last context, however, the remaining presentations and ensuing discussions may be characterized by a studied and calculated ambivalence — between an insistence on rethinking these cultural and social values in relation to rights discourse, where rights would be instrumental in transforming these values, and those presentations in which rights discourse played little or no role. In terms of the latter, the series of "personal narratives" during the workshop and reproduced here in the first section of this issue of DSQ have remained for me powerfully emblematic and resonant, opening us toward a number of troubling and demanding questions as to the very terms in which we are being asked to evaluate the role of rights for persons with disabilities. As one recent commentary suggests, and as the "personal narratives" assert with some force, "human rights say nothing about the immanent modes of existence of people provided with rights" (see Deleuze and Guattari, 107). No doubt it is this same claim that finds resonance in numerous other historical and contemporary geopolitical contexts and communities, and notably in voices, protestations, and forms of resistance and survival far from the institutional structures (both national and international) in which rights are declared, inscribed into law, and enforced.

Given the relative prominence of rights discourse in these various presentations, it would appear not just naïve but politically reactive and irresponsible to contest and oppose such an extraordinary wealth of claims, assertions, and commitments. But prompted by a wide range of recent literature on the role of rights discourse in both historical and contemporary contexts, and notably in contexts of post-colonialism and globalization, and prompted above all by the insistence across this same literature that rights discourse is riven through and punctuated repeatedly by contradictions, perplexities (to use Hannah Arendt's term), paradoxes, and even aporias, I do have some questions concerning the ways in which rights discourse is assumed to constitute the most effective — or transparent — means of socio-political transformation.2 I raise these questions both generally, in the sense of an appeal to rights as a fundamental political principle of equality and emancipation, and for persons with disabilities in particular. Thus, I want to hesitate when faced with the different ways in which the appeal to rights is being made by — or on behalf of — persons with disabilities (indeed, this last distinction is itself instructive, and already points us to one of the real difficulties concerning rights discourse and its implementation and enforcement).

This hesitation stems from the tension between the appeal to rights as universal (as in references to human rights) and rights that are particular, context specific, contingent, and conjunctural on a geopolitical and historical level (as in the Kenya Disability Act itself). This hesitation also stems from the ways in which rights that are considered universal, such as human rights, are deeply entangled in the increasingly complex relations between international institutional structures such as the U.N. and international law; the laws and policies of individual sovereign states (or lack thereof); the role of the citizen as sole bearer of rights and the related issues of statelessness, labor migration, and refugees; the increasingly prominent role of NGOs in defining rights discourse outside of the conditions of state sovereignty (for which the refugee camps might be considered emblematic); and the particular individuals, groups, and communities (and their intersections at the local, national, regional, and global levels) for whom specific rights are demanded and/or granted.

In short, I want to suggest that the complex, often troubling and indeed paradoxical articulations that define the different aspects of contemporary rights discourse in a local, national, regional, and global context have already been set in play by the different speakers over the past few days, and not just in terms of their respective institutional affiliations and identities on the local, national, regional, and global levels but in terms of the different types of community to which they do, and do not, belong (those different types of local, national, regional, and global community to which we all imagine we do — and do not — belong, or those different types of imagined community that we identify or intersect with — or become identified with. Again, it is the discourse of rights that reopens these troubling distinctions, exposing us to a permanently shifting terrain of isolation as well as potential allegiances, exclusions as well as possible associations, marginalizations as well as new networks of affiliation). But above all, my hesitation and questions concerning the role of rights discourse in contexts of disability stems from the pertinence of these brief remarks as they translate and necessarily mistranslate across different geopolitical contexts in which rights discourse is operative, or operative in different ways, opening up different histories, traditions, and experiences with which I remain little familiar. My hope is that such translations and mistranslations might at least prove useful and instructive, lending themselves to the types of dialogue and discussion that have animated our workshop over the past few days in such extraordinary ways.

In the chapter on "Rights and Losses" in her book States of Injury, Wendy Brown outlines with precision some of the hesitations I have suggested concerning the emancipatory force of rights claims:

If, historically, rights have been claimed to secure formal emancipation for individuals stigmatized, traumatized, and subordinated by particular social identities, to secure a place for such individuals in a humanist discourse of universal personhood, what does it mean to deploy rights on behalf of identities that aim to confound the humanist conceit? What are the consequences of installing politicized identity in the universal discourse of liberal jurisprudence? And what does it mean to use a discourse of generic personhood — the discourse of rights — against the privileges that such discourse has traditionally secured? (96-97).

When these questions are bound to the tension between rights as universal and generic and rights as geopolitically circumscribed and historically contingent (a tension that is also explored in much of the most prominent recent literature on rights), a series of troubling paradoxes opens up, displacing any attempt to define rights discourse within a stable or transparent set of identifiable terms or as leading to a predetermined goal. Thus, a permanent, paradoxical, and irreconcilable conflict is established between "rights as boundary, and as access; rights as markers of power, and as masking lack; rights as claims, and as protection; rights as organization of social space, and as defense against incursion; rights as articulation, and as mystification; rights as disciplinary, and as antidisciplinary; rights as a mark of one's humanity, and as a reduction of one's humanity; rights as expression of desire, and as foreclosure of desire" (97). In other words, it is not always very easy to know how or when or where to make or arbitrate these distinctions, or how and when and where they become operative, or how exactly they come to affect and condition — indeed, constitute and create — the social and political subject endowed with rights.

As Brown then argues, while rights may operate as an "indisputable force of emancipation" at specific historical moments (i.e., the American Civil Rights movement, or the struggle for rights by black South Africans or Palestinians in contexts of colonial domination), these same rights might also lend themselves to forms of regulatory discourse, "a means of obstructing or coopting more radical political demands, or simply the most hollow of empty promises" (98). As any number of recent military invasions and wars around the world suggest, all of course conducted under the umbrella of "humanitarian interventions" (U.N. sanctioned or not), the discourse of human rights can become one of the most brutal, hypocritical, and inhuman means of establishing and reproducing imperialist and neo-liberal expansion. More modestly though no less urgently, the paradox at stake here is then best expressed in an ironic twist, one that that might haunt our very gathering here in the workshop to reassess the 2003 Disability Act — "rights sought by a politically defined group are conferred upon depoliticized individuals; at the moment a particular 'we' succeeds in obtaining rights, it loses its 'we-ness' and dissolves into individuals" (98).

It is in this sense that a certain definition of liberalism extends its dominance over the social and political domain.3 At the same time, rights that might be said to empower certain individuals within a given context or community might serve to disempower those in another context or community, especially those without citizenship as the guarantor of having rights in the first place. In other words, as the phrase "enforcing rights" evocatively suggests, rights discourse always presupposes relations of force and power, and relations of force and power (at least when government agencies and legal systems are called upon to enforce rights) that are more often hierarchical than symmetrical, marked by inequalities than mere reciprocity, even as subjects newly empowered with these same rights might choose to find themselves willingly subject to — that is, subjected to — this same enforcement of rights. The ability to identify a given people and guarantee their rights is thus a potential form of discipline or control, organizing those with rights to forms of registration, statistical monitoring, data gathering, segmentation, etc., even as these same forms of registration and monitoring might give visibility and voice as well as social and political legitimacy in social and political contexts where persons with disabilities have been rendered invisible and without voice.

It is in this sense that one of the tendencies animating rights is its way of effacing the very emancipatory ideal it seeks to create, reproducing those forms of administered marginalization and exclusion it seeks to overcome. Policy elides into policing. In short, if rights "converge with powers of social stratification and lines of social demarcation in ways that extend as often as attenuate these powers and lines," as Brown argues, and if forms of political representation become a way for the people to control and transform the state while simultaneously becoming a means for the state to control and administer the people, then a series of fundamental questions still remain, throwing into relief again some of the conflicts and paradoxes we have been tracing:

When do rights sought by identity 'for itself' become 'in themselves' a means of administration? When does identity articulated through rights become production and regulation of identity through law and bureaucracy? When does legal recognition become an instrument of regulation, and political recognition become an instrument of subordination? (99).

Wendy Brown's questions and provocations are meant to resonate within an acknowledged and quite circumscribed geopolitical context, that of "politicized identities" in late twentieth-century North American political life. When translated into the geopolitical context that defines our workshop here in Nairobi, I want to suggest that these questions take on a number of further implications. For assuming that rights discourse has a long history (including the notion raised in our discussions that there exist four generations of rights discourse), the question also facing us today concerns the ways in which this paradox between the universality of rights discourse and its geopolitical and historical contingency at once translates and mistranslates into the Kenyan context that preoccupies us here.

Thus, to come quickly to the point, what is the relation between on the one hand the concept of human rights in their generic universality and on the other the contingent and over-determined history of the colonial and post-colonial state, in which such claims to universality also find themselves subject to extreme qualification, displacement, and contestation? For as we know, it has been precisely through appeals to an assumed universality that colonialism has found one of its most tenacious and insidious modes of subjugating the other as Other. In her essay, Brown acknowledges that rights discourses also emerged within the specific historical context of modernity, acting as a "vehicle of emancipation from political disenfranchisement or institutionalized servitude" but also becoming a means of privileging an emerging bourgeois class within a discourse of "formal egalitarianisms and universal citizenship."

In other words, rights emerged both as "a means of protection against arbitrary use and abuse by sovereign and social power and as a mode of securing and naturalizing dominant social powers — class, gender, and so forth" (99). If the "human" that is extolled in human rights cannot ever be fully detached from a concept of the human that marks off others as non-human, or less than human, at least when compared to the "naturalizing" claims and assumed norms of dominant social, political, governmental, colonial, or imperial powers, or if the human of human rights implies a concept of the human that potentially marks off those incapable of producing or realizing their own human worth through their "diminished" human (or physical or mental) capacities, then such an argument not only questions, if not subverts any attempt to promote a discourse of formal egalitarianisms and universal citizenship. Such an argument also throws into relief again the structural violence that underpins the humanist conceit, the history of subservience and domination that characterizes colonialism's "civilizing missions," as well as the contemporary forms of imperial welfare and warfare (for which the World Bank's structural adjustment programs, also now repackaged as "humanitarian interventions," might constitute the perfect emblem).4

In this sense, if the history of rights discourse is specific to modernity in the West, and specific (as much of the literature argues) to the revolutionary tradition, then its implications in the context of the colonial and post-colonial state only ever exacerbate the paradoxes and conflicts organizing the argument, necessitating a supplementary discussion concerning the role of rights discourse in the colonial, post-colonial, and now global context, and thus radically refocusing the argument animating all discussions of human rights concerning the universal and the particular.5 In other words, even if rights might have only a relatively recent (and admittedly, powerfully transformative) history in geopolitical contexts far from the Western metropoles — and here we would turn to the relatively recent adoption of disability rights into the fabric of social and political existence in Kenya following the 2003 Act (but which Kenya? whose Kenya?) — the very concept of rights itself comes with a long history and inherited tradition, and an even longer set of assumptions and presuppositions, inscribed with all the conflicts and paradoxes that much of the recent literature on the subject has begun to unpack and rethink.

Indeed, deferring rights to international standards and benchmarks promoted by the United Nations, or appealing to U.N. Conventions on human rights, never fully effaces the paradoxes and conflicts between universality and particularity at stake here, or the histories that must be taken into account, notably as the concept of sovereignty that is instrumental and indeed constitutive of all rights discourse becomes radically transformed and contested on a global level (see An-Na'im (1995), Brysk (2002), Brysk (2004), Cheah (2006), Gibney (2003), Slaughter (2007). On Africa, see An-Na'im and Deng (1990), Lindholt (1997), Nmehielle (2001)). One might argue that the difficulty in parsing out the logic between universality and particularity is captured perfectly in the very term "The African Human Rights System" (see Nmehielle, 2001), although any number of regional specificities would also count here (human rights in South East Asia, human rights abuses in Russian provinces, human rights in U.S. prisons, etc.).

Michael Karanja's essay, reprinted in this issue of DSQ, points to the real difficulty of establishing a stable measure for human rights discourse in the context of persons with disability in the refugee camps, where a myriad range of institutional supports are engaged on the local, national, regional, and international level (the International Rescue Committee, based in Kenya and run out of New York, other NGOs as well as local hospital support, some Kenyan government input, U.N. documentation and monitoring, and yet refugees in the "no-man's-land" of the camps, "outside" yet still "inside" sovereign territory). In personal response to this paper, Mbugua wa-Mungai also reminds me of the potentially different ways of articulating the relation between the state and the local community — times when the local community and forms of community based rehabilitation become the only context where rights have real, transformative effects; times when the very failure of families and communities to adapt and respond adequately to persons with disabilities necessitates a turn to the state and its enforcement of disability rights, rights which families and local communities are then forced to acknowledge; and times when it is precisely families, local communities, and NGOs that provide the only means of support when governments refuse, or have no means or funds, to enforce existing rights.

The complexities and conflicts no doubt extend well beyond these different scenarios. Seen from a somewhat different standpoint, I would want to argue that it remains strategic on a heuristic level to outline, at least within this long and complex history of rights discourse, a continual conflict between a more defensive and protective role, in which the state (including the colonial and post-colonial state) or regional conglomeration of states become the means of granting and then enforcing rights — where rights become one of the very means of (re)producing state sovereignty itself — and the revolutionary tradition in which rights are demanded in the struggle for justice and equality. How — and whether — that revolutionary tradition still exists remains a difficult question, touching on the very terms in which we seek forms of social and political transformation in and across different geopolitical contexts, a question all the more important given the purported origins of human rights in this very tradition.

Suffice it to recall an event that took place in Kenya in 1964, when a group of people with disabilities spent the night camping outside the newly official residence of the President, seeking audience with Jomo Kenyatta and demanding that disability be addressed within the newly established Republic.6 The demand for justice — for infinite justice and shared human dignity — is not reducible to, or ever fully co-opted by, the granting and enforcing of rights, notably when such rights only pertain to individual citizens.

Situated more closely in relation to a number of discussions that have taken place over the past few days, several further tensions and conflicts also come into place. For example, when does the assumed right to have a cleft palate operated on become not only a human right but itself fully, transparently, and unequivocally separate from Smile Train's publicity campaigns, in which the West tends to reproduce the most insidious forms of "soft" imperialism?7 What remains at issue here is not the obvious need of children to have the operations but the discourse that frames this need at the local, national, regional, and global levels. Or again, when does the rights discourse advocated by NGOs (and in contexts often related ambiguously to both the U.N as well as individual state sovereignty) separate itself from a longer history of Western charity, notably the charity work of religious institutions, even when NGOs seek to distinguish themselves from past histories of charity work precisely through the appeal to rights?8

Or to engage my own friend and colleague here at the workshop, when Brenda Brueggemann suggests that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) might well "inform" Kenyan activists, policymakers, and scholars in their reassessment of their own Disability Act, how does such a claim fully distinguish itself from a more pervasive form of U.S. imperialism or benevolent paternalism on the African continent? Should we also not imagine the reverse situation, which Brenda also intimates, in which the difficulties of enforcing the Disability Act in Kenya illuminate something about the ways in which the "second generation" of the ADA works in America? I have no concrete answers to such questions. It's enough that they should be posed and left to resonate in our discussions, not just haunting our certitudes, institutional and disciplinary safe-guards, policy decisions, and pleas for progress, but also opening up — this is my hope — new questions and initiatives, new ways of articulating the continued relevance (and potential irrelevance) of rights to effective socio-political transformation, new ways of confronting rights as they touch and traverse the existence of individuals and communities on the local, national, regional, and global levels.

As way of concluding, it is not a question of simply moving away from or getting rid of rights and so risking the loss of those struggles for justice that have accompanied rights discourse, both historically as well as in numerous contemporary contexts. But no more is it a question of finding in rights discourse a source that is written in stone or cited like holy writ, or of appealing to rights as human without working through the paradoxes and conflicts that repeatedly and historically punctuate such claims to universality in their local and particular contexts, or without acknowledging the human atrocities committed in the name of our humanity, even when such a humanity clothes itself in human rights. We find ourselves in a situation where rights need to be (re)invented or (re)created anew in their (in)finite perfectability, at once within and beyond the state (or their representation as part of the United Nations) but also within and beyond the individual/group distinction and its easy subsumption under the model of liberal jurisprudence and neo-liberal globalization. How are we to think rights without falling back into the paradox animating liberalism and recalled by Wendy Brown cited earlier, where "rights sought by a politically defined group are conferred upon depoliticized individuals," or where a particular group succeeds in obtaining rights, and so loses its collectivity and "dissolves into individuals" (98)? In other words, I want to suggest that the question also remains how to think less the "individual" or "group identities" that have shaped our more habitual ways of conceiving the "social" terrain, less the references to "communities" on local, national, regional, and global levels, than how to affirm and acknowledge our singularities (in their constitutive plurality and multiplicity)? How do we affirm and acknowledge those exclusivities that escape and resist all appropriation and identification, all dialectic of identity and difference, all stigmatization and discrimination, those singularities that inform a humanity that is partagé, translated here as what we "share" in our irreducible difference from — and with — one another?9 How do we imagine — what logic might begin to inform — rights as shared or collective, prior or beyond individual citizenship as the sole guarantor of rights or state sovereignty as its arbiter? And what might these questions mean for "us" gathered here in the workshop as "we" prepare to part ways, waiting and hoping to take up the dialogue again in its halting rhythms and incessant displacements, in moments of extraordinary intimacy and yet continents apart, in translation and mistranslation?

Works Cited

  • An-Na'im, Abdullahi Ahmed. (1995) Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • An-Na'im, Abdullahi Ahmed and Francis Mading Deng. (1990) Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution.
  • Agamben, Giorgio. (2000) "Beyond Human Rights" in Means without End: Notes on Politics, 15-28. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
  • Arendt, Hannah. (2004) "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man" in The Origins of Totalitarianism, 341-84. New York: Schocken.
  • Balfour, Ian and Eduardo Cadava, eds. (2004) "And Justice for All? The Claims of Human Rights," The South Atlantic Quarterly 103, 2/3 (Spring/Summer 2004).
  • Balibar, Étienne. (1994) "'Rights of Man' and 'Rights of the Citizen': The Modern Dialectic of Equality and Freedom" in Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, 39-59. London: Routledge.
  • Balibar, Étienne. (2004) We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Benhabib, Seyla. (2004) The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brown, Wendy. (1995) States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Brysk, Alison, ed. (2002) Globalization and Human Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Brysk, Alison, ed. (2005) Human Rights and Private Wrongs: Constructing Global Civil Society. New York: Routledge.
  • Cadava, Eduardo and Aaron Levy, eds. (2003) Cities without Citizens. Philadelphia: Slought Foundation.
  • Cheah, Pheng. (2006) Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1994) What is Philosophy? London: Verso.
  • Gibney, Mathew J., ed. (2003) Globalizing Rights. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Hufton, Olwen, ed. (1995) Historical Change and Human Rights. New York: Basic Books.
  • Hunt, Lynn. (2008) Inventing Human Rights: A History. New York: Norton.
  • Jarman, Michelle. (2005) "Resisting 'Good Imperialism': Reading Disability as Radical Vulnerability" in Atenea 25:1 (June 2005): 107-116.
  • Kristeva, Julia. (2005) "Liberté, égalité, fraternité et … vulnérabilité" in La haine et le pardon, pp. 95-118. Paris: Fayard.
  • Lefort, Claude. (1986) "Politics and Human Rights" in The Political Forms of Modern Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Lindholt, Lone. (1997) Questioning the Universality of Human Rights: The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in Botswana, Malawi, and Mozambique. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Mbembe, Achille. (2001) On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Nmehielle, Vincent O. Orlu. (2001) The African Human Rights System: Its Laws, Practice, and Institutions. The Hague: Matinus Nijhoff.
  • Slaughter, Joseph. (2007) Human Rights, Inc: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Scott, Joan Wallach. (1996) Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminisms and the Rights of Man. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Welch, Claude Emerson. (1995) Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Roles and Strategies of Non-Governmental Organizations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


  1. These notes were read on the last day of the Nairobi workshop. I have retained the largely improvised nature of the oral presentation while expanding its central argument. For my participation in the workshop, I would like to acknowledge funding support from the College of the Arts and Sciences and the Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. I would also like to acknowledge Kimani Njogu for his generous invitation and wonderful hospitality during our stay in Nairobi, Nina Berman, who encouraged my participation and made this project possible, and Mbugua wa-Mungai, who offered an incisive critique of an earlier draft of the paper.

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  2. For Hannah Arendt's seminal early text on human rights, refugees, and the state, see Arendt (2004). An initial survey of recent literature that rethinks the assumptions and presuppositions informing human rights includes: Agamben (2004), Balibar (1994), Balibar (2004), Benhabib (2004), Brysk (2002), Brysk (2005), Cadava and Levy (2003), Cheah (2006), Gibney (2003), Hufton (1995), Hunt (2008), Lefort (1986), Slaughter (2007), and Scott (1996). While not devoted to questions of disability, the issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly edited by Ian Balfour and Eduardo Cadava and devoted to human rights (see Balfour and Cadava, 2004) contains an extraordinary range of essays pertinent to the issues raised by our workshop.

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  3. The very abbreviation PWD is instructive here, not only because of the inherent ambiguity as to whether it already signifies a plurality or should be written PWDs (an ambiguity found in our editing of this issue of DSQ); the question also remains whether persons with disability tends to reinscribe and reproduce a definition of the individual liberal subject while effacing or presupposing the plurality or collectivity of disabled subjects, or whether it signifies another way of rearticulating the subject beyond or prior to this very distinction. We will touch on this problem in our conclusion.

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  4. See Cheah (2006) for a compelling argument concerning the relation between the human implied in human rights, globalization, migrant labor, and post-colonial nationalism.

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  5. The argument also reopens the role that rights play in Achille Mbembe's On the Postcolony (Mbembe, 2001), notably in light of his concept of commandement as it relates to the African continent.

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  6. The event is recalled in a forthcoming document on human rights and disability in Kenya, organized by the Center for Disability Rights Education and Advocacy (CREAD). I am most grateful to Mike Ngunyi who shared a copy of this text in its draft form before our workshop. In a recent text on disability (Kristeva, 2005), Julia Kristeva situates disability within this same revolutionary tradition of "liberty, equality, fraternity."

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  7. On Smile Train's "soft" imperialism, see Jarman (2005).

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  8. On the role of NGOs and their implications for the African human rights system, see Welch (1995), Nmehielle (2001).

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  9. The French verb partager implies at once a sharing and a partitioning or division. A pivotal term in the writings of Jean-Luc Nancy, the term is central to Julia Kristeva's writings on disability in Kristeva (2005).

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Copyright (c) 2009 Philip Armstrong

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