Human rights in the neo-liberal imagination: Mapping the 'new sovereignties'

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'The end of sovereignty': this has been an ominous refrain in the chorus of global political and human rights analyses aimed at reformulating a post-Cold War configuration of world power. In cultural studies, the same pronouncement is more likely made through a mix of theoretical exuberance and ambivalence toward a post-nationalist and cosmopolitan imaginary. This essay takes as a point of departure the rise of 'new sovereignties' - a fractured Westphalianism - as a rubric for understanding the political imagination about the international community today. It asks: to what dimensions of the regime of the new sovereignties can the human rights legal discourse as we know it today still exert influence, given the new configurations of globally disaggregated power? With human rights today reemerging as a bifurcation, how can cultural studies reconcile a theory of rights as subaltern claim-making with that of rights as an all-englobing tool in the neo-liberal order of world justice? Through a preliminary mapping of the moral-juridical and political forces that shape the regime of the new sovereignties, this essay attempts to illuminate why rights as international deontological politics is inadvertently complicit with the reproduction of rights as something constitutive of empire and neo-liberalism. Copyright © 2009 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-436
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2009


Erni, J. N. (2009). Human rights in the neo-liberal imagination: Mapping the 'new sovereignties'. Cultural Studies, 23(3), 417-436. doi: 10.1080/09502380902863356


  • Human rights
  • International law
  • New sovereignties
  • Global trade
  • Neo-liberalism


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