Kate Nash is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University. She has written and published widely on the sociology of human rights, including ‘Between Citizenship and Human Rights’ Sociology 43/6 2009; The Political Sociology of Human Rights (CUP 2015); and The Cultural Politics of Human Rights: Comparing the US and UK (CUP 2009). She is currently researching human rights films, and she has an article from this project, ‘Film that brings human rights to life’, forthcoming in Public Culture.
There is a widely held view that for the promise of universal human rights to be realised, a ‘culture of human rights’ is needed. Why and what is a culture of human rights? To understand the demand, we first consider the promise of human rights in the context of globalisation, the transformation of states, and the ongoing institutionalisation of cosmopolitan law. We then turn to media studies to understand the role of mediated frames in constructing (and in blocking the construction) of a culture of human rights. While mainstream media has been dominated by frames of national scale, a good deal of hope is placed in digital media as transcending national frames in terms of information and participation. How justified is this hope in relation to realising human rights? Can online representations of human rights and human rights violations contribute to a common culture of human rights? Or is online communication contributing rather to antagonism between people with a more cosmopolitan orientation and those to whom national frames seem more appropriate within the same state territory? It may help us to understand the political dilemmas here if we consider that international human rights law is itself caught in a paradox, equally valuing the figure of the citizen and of the human, though citizenship and human rights cannot always be reconciled democratically. Human rights are, therefore, inherently, political. There is no fixed, determinate meaning of human rights, and issues of representation, signification and frame raised by any project to realise human rights are a matter of cultural politics rather than of establishing a culture of human rights.