Cfp: Human Rights after 1945 in the Socialist and Post-Socialist World

Human Rights after 1945 in the Socialist and Post-Socialist World

Call for Papers Deadline: 27 November 2015

A collaborative conference between the German Historical Institute and 1989 after 1989, The

University of Exeter

Venue: German Historical Institute, Warsaw

Date: March 3-5, 2016


Histories of late twentieth century global change have focused on its perceived winners on a macro-scale:

democratic capitalism, global markets and individual rights. In such formulations, the “socialist world” and its

history appear irrelevant to understanding global processes and unable to inform liberal Western democratic

The global rise of human rights might look like a particularly striking case in point. The formal guarantees of

rights in socialist societies, after all, seemed to have no substantial effect on these societies’ political and

legal practices, and the debate on civil society in “the West” which east European human rights activists had

inspired during the 1980s, did not survive socialism’s fall in that region.

In this conference, we want to question those narratives. Actors from the socialist world – be they state

officials, loyal intellectuals or dissident activists – actively participated in international conflicts over the

meaning of democracy, economic freedom, religious liberty and national self-determination in the post-war

period. Socialist officials took part in drafting the U.N. covenants of 1966, in turning South African apartheid

or repression in Chile into global causes célèbres or in promoting women’s rights. African socialists shaped

human rights discourses by blending them with the struggle for self-determination, while Latin American

activists grafted human rights to their Marxist ideas. Chinese Communists joined traditional ideas of cultural

difference with Leninist ideology to create a distinct human rights discourse. Dissident intellectuals, on the

other hand, did not necessarily take the West’s side in the Cold War when they criticized socialist realities,

but developed innovative human rights vernaculars deeply shaped by their unique contexts. In sum, the

“socialist world” did not just react passively to Western human rights politics, but was a vital participant in

the story of the production of global human rights.

This conference seeks to explore how the socialist world can be written into the broader global narratives of

the rise of human rights in the 20th century, and even revise these narratives. Our understanding of the

“socialist world” is deliberately inclusive. It entails the socialist systems of eastern Europe, Eurasia, Africa,

Southern and East Asia as well as socialist and Communist parties and movements more broadly, and anti-
colonial or anti-dictatorial movements in the Global South. We welcome papers from different disciplines

and from diverse perspectives, whether dealing with official discourses, state policies, right experts, or

national or transnational political movements.

We particularly encourage proposals on the following topics:

+ rights cultures within socialist societies, including reflections on the global context of their construction;

+ the contribution of socialist elites, experts and social groups to the global rise of human rights;

+ connections across the socialist world in the production of conceptions of rights, including reflections on

the role of international organizations or transnational movements;

+ the importance of rights discourses for socialist regimes and movements in establishing legitimacy at home

and abroad;

+ the use of rights discourses by opposition movements, and the relationship between official/ alternative

rights movements within socialist societies;

+ the legacy of rights discourses within socialist and post-socialist societies today;

+ comparisons, and connections between, the production of rights ideas in the socialist and non-socialist

+ rethinking the role of rights and the collapse of socialist states;

+ broader reflections on writing the socialist world into the history of rights;

+ broader reflections on how these stories contribute to the rethinking of the story of cultural and political


This conference is the first in a series of meetings exploring how processes and practices that emerged from

the socialist world shaped the re-globalized world of our times. Throughout, the legacies of this socialist

engagement with globalising processes in the socialist and post-socialist world will also be an important

point of interest.

Please send a brief abstract of 300-500 words, as well as a brief CV, by November 27, 2015, to Natalie Taylor

at the University of Exeter ( ). All organizational questions can be sent to Natalie

Taylor. Academic queries should be sent to Hella Dietz ( ).

Substantial funding opportunities for travel and accommodation are available, but we ask that potential

contributors also explore funding opportunities at their home institutions. This event is kindly supported by

the German Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Leverhulme Trust-funded project 1989 after 1989:

Rethinking the Fall of State Socialism in Global Perspective at the University of Exeter.

Further information about the conference will be available on the 1989 after 1989 website:

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