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Annelise Riles to speak on "The Virtual Sociality of Rights: The Case of 'Women's Rights Are Human Rights,'" Feb. 15

Annelise Riles, visiting professor at YLS and professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law, will speak on the topic "The Virtual Sociality of Rights: The Case of 'Women's Rights are Human Rights'" at the Schell Center Human Rights Workshop on Friday, February 15, at 12:30 p.m., in Room 129. The talk is free and open to the public.

Professor Annelise Riles's presentation on Friday will, in a way, turn this week's Human Rights Workshop into a self-analysis.

Trained in anthropology as well as law, Riles brings an anthropologist's eye to some of the activities of the human rights community--choosing the relationships and behaviors of activists, academics, and bureaucrats as her subject. At the Human Rights Workshop, she'll be speaking to that community. In the paper on which her talk will be based, she focused on the movement promoting the idea that "women's rights are human rights" as it developed around the year 1995.

Within the community of people concerned with this proposition, she describes two subsets: academics and activists. The two groups view themselves as different from each other. Riles writes: "To academics, it is largely self-evident that academic and activist knowledge practices are worlds apart." At the same time, activists consider the theorizing of their academic counterparts to be unimportant to their actual work.

Indeed, the two groups could even be seen as challenging or undoing each other's work. Academics criticized the rhetoric and assumptions of the rights movement, while activists questioned the relevance of new theories. "It is as if each genre of rights talk and action was unraveling what the other was weaving," Riles writes.

However, Riles argues that "it is impossible to find any explicit point of disagreement between the activists and academics working for and around women's human rights during this period--the difference was rather a matter of emphasis, of self -presentation." The difference that they perceive provides a means for each group to better look at its own community.

"You've got to have a disagreement, so you can have a community," Riles contends.

The Human Rights Workshop, as a forum for both sides of the division, may be the ideal place to test this idea.