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The Colonialism of Human Rights

Hardback By Colin Samson
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Do so-called universal human rights apply to indigenous, formerly enslaved and colonized peoples?

This trenchant book brings human rights into conversation with the histories and afterlives of Western colonialism and slavery. Colin Samson examines the paradox that the nations that credit themselves with formulating universal human rights were colonial powers, settler colonists and sponsors of enslavement. Samson points out that many liberal theorists supported colonialism and slavery, and how this illiberalism plays out today in selective, often racist processes of recognition and enforcement of human rights.

 To reveal the continuities between colonial histories and contemporary events, Samson connects British, French and American colonial theories and practice to the notion of non-universal human rights. Vivid illustrations and case studies of racial exceptions to human rights are drawn from the afterlives of the enslaved and colonized, as well as recent events such as American police killings of black people, the treatment of Algerian harkis in France, the Windrush scandal in Britain and the militarized suppression of the Standing Rock Water Protectors movement. Advocating for reparative justice and indigenizing law, Samson argues that such events are not a failure of liberalism so much as an inbuilt racial dynamic of it.

Product Details

Format: Hardback, 256 pages Language: English
Dimension: 23.11cm x 15.75cm x 2.54cm ISBN10: 1509529977
Weight: 522g ISBN13: 9781509529971
Publication Date: 17 Jul 2020 Publisher: Polity Press

About Author

Colin Samson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex

Product Reviews


"A convincing portrayal of ongoing complicity with human rights abuses in the 'time of rights', so persuasive that it is hard to see how dehumanization under neo-colonialism can end. […] However, it has to be attempted and this book makes a powerful start. It is an essential read for anyone interested in the relationship between human rights and the West's unvirtuous history and contemporary geo-politics."Ethnic and Racial Studies"Colin Samson has written a poignant indictment of the hypocrisy of Western elites who extol the virtues of human rights while engaging in colonialism, war, slavery and capitalist exploitation. He makes a powerful argument for decolonizing human rights by indigenizing the law and addressing the racial exclusions at the heart of human rights discourse." Richard Wilson, University of Connecticut "A coruscating analysis of the dark side of liberalism, demonstrating that the universality of human rights has always been limited by assumptions of cultural and racial inequality at their core. A powerful and revealing intervention in politics, history and activism." Robert Gildea, University of Oxford"[A]n engaging and rich reading, suggesting that we should not hold any eusebeia – or sacred awe – towards the 'founding fathers' of human rights. One of the strongest aspects of the book is that it encourages readers not only to look directly in the eyes of western hypocrisy about human rights, but it pushes them to think that only by acknowledging this hypocrisy can we, in fact, save human rights from their racist and colonial genesis, and work towards their transfiguration as an effective emancipatory tool." Sociology"Colin Samson's book is an outstanding, honest and bold statement on the reality on the ground. It is a highly recommended reading for everyone interested in the globalisation and modernisation projects."Anis Ahmad, The Muslim World Book Review


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