The problem of subjectivity and the critique of human rights after foucault

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Griffith Law Review, 2010, 19 (2), pp. 288 - 306
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© 2010, Routledge. All rights reserved. The problem of subjectivity – of how to conceptualise the subject – remains at the threshold of our understanding of human rights, both as a historical construct and a functional, juridical technology. Moving away from the idea of liberalism as the thought relating to political society based on the juridicocontractual relation of sovereign to subject, Foucault’s account of the economic basis for liberal governmentality, developed in the series of lectures delivered during 1978 and 1979, provides scope to reconsider the problem of subjectivity in human rights. Our focus here should be on the possibility of situating the constitution of the subject of human rights within the historical processes associated with the development of the liberal and neo-liberal arts of government, and more specifically at the juncture at which the heterogenous forms of subjectivity associated with homo juridicus (the subject of rights) and homo economicus (the subject of interests) coexist. Further, a critique of human rights with this orientation might be used to address the fundamental political contradiction inherent in the divided subjectivity of the sovereign-subject, and of individual human life as the ultimate biopolitical foundation of the state.
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