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“Can Human Rights Defeat Nationalism?” by Lea David.

October 24, 2018 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


October 24, 2018
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Seminar Room G010, Hardiman Research Building


Kevin Ryan

The Power, Conflict and Ideologies Research Cluster (School of Political Science & Sociology), and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, are co-hosting a visit by Dr. Lea David, who is currently Marie Curie fellow (2017-2019) in the School of Sociology, UCD.

The focus of this lecture is the way in which collective memory and memorialization processes are understood within the human rights centred ideology and how such understanding affects nationalism. The basic difference between human rights and nationalist understanding and promotion of memorialization processes is that human rights stand for world-wide inclusion of all people into one moral community, whereas nationalism presumes nationally bounded collectives. For the ideology of nationalism, historical memory is perceived in terms of continuity, provides legitimacy for sovereignty, however, human rights as the grand narrative in the world polity, has provided a new definition – that of coming to terms with (one specific version of) the past – by which collectives are supposed to remember, a phenomenon coined here as “memorialization isomorphism”. Memorialization isomorphism refers to the standardized set of norms, promoted through human rights infrastructures in the world polity, through which societies are supposed to deal with the legacies of mass human rights abuses. States, in particular weak and post-conflict states with troubled pasts, are expected to conform to the international human rights norms of facing their criminal past and becoming accountable for past massive human rights abuses.

I ask here how successful memorialization isomorphism is in promoting universalist human rights values and whether memorialization isomorphism is capable of harvesting micro-solidarity in order to become an ideological cement that can overcome nationalism. Since the experience of micro-solidarity is not instinctive but rather a function of an interpretation of symbols and history, I argue that in contexts within which ethnic symbols and collective histories have played immediate roles in conflicts, and were further legitimized and embedded by peace agreements and human rights institutions, it is nationalist apparatus which has become the ultimate factor in the processes of recollecting micro-solidarity. In other words, I argue that at the world polity level, human rights have produced a norm of memorialization isomorphism that does not actually lead to the advancement of human rights values but is instead likely to further promote nationalist ideologies. Finally, I suggest we look at the current reappearance of nationalism world-wide partially as a result of a gradual and accumulative process of standardization of memory – from “duty to remember” as a moral instance onto policy-oriented “proper way to remember” and try to assess the impact such process has on the perception of the “self” and “other”.

Dr. Lea David is currently a Marie Curie fellow (2017-2019) at the School of Sociology at University College Dublin (UCD), where she is finishing her research project on Nationalism, Memory and Human Rights in the Western Balkans and in Israel/Palestine under the supervision of Prof. Siniša Malesević. For this research, she also received a prestigious Israeli Council for Higher Education Fellowship (ות”ת) for outstanding Israeli scholars. In addition, as Senior Researcher for a four-year NSF-funded research on cultural anthropology, she is currently conducting extensive research in Bosnia-Herzegovina on religious competition in a post-conflict landscape. In 2014, while at the Sociology and Anthropology Department of Ben Gurion University, Israel, Dr. David completed her PhD dissertation on the politics of memory and human rights in post-conflict Serbia. In 2014-15, she was awarded a Joint Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Anthropology Department and the Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research of Haifa University. In 2015-16, she won both the Fulbright fellowship and the Rabin fellowship, the latter being awarded to the best Fulbright candidate of the year in social sciences. She spent her Fulbright-Rabin fellowship conducting research at the Anthropology Department of the University of Pittsburgh. In 2016-2017, she held the Jonathan Shapira Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Sociology and Anthropology Department of Tel Aviv University. Her book manuscript “The past can’t heal us! Human rights, memory and micro-sociology” is currently under review for several academic publishers.