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Claiming from below: Rights, politics and social movements

Aitchison Cornish, G; (2015) Claiming from below: Rights, politics and social movements. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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It is often said that many of the canonical rights we enjoy today are the achievement of past political struggle. While these struggles are typically invoked as a source of political inspiration, this thesis argues that they are also key to understanding the nature and significance of rights as a philosophical concept. The thesis marks a new contribution to the literature on rights, which is predominantly oriented to the formal analysis of rights in relation to the law and to their achievement and enforcement through the institutions of the constitutional state. Part I of the thesis sets out and defends an activist theory of rights that explains the special value the concept has as claims that empower agents with the moral standing to challenge and replace unjust laws, institutions and social practices according to critical moral norms. Part II uses the activist theory of rights as a framework to examine the strengths and weaknesses of four influential models of rights politics: the juridical model of Ronald Dworkin; the parliamentary model of Jeremy Waldron and Richard Bellamy; the liberal civil disobedience model of John Rawls, and the radical critique of rights from within the Marxian tradition. The evaluation of these four models generates an argument in support of the legitimacy and effectiveness of activist citizenship for the achievement and enforcement of rights on the basis of democratic inclusion, moral innovation and civic education. Part III of the thesis provides an illustration of activist citizenship taken from a contemporary squatting movement centered on the right to housing, ‘Take Back the Land’. In exercising the moral right to housing, for which they demand political recognition, the group’s practices reflect the adversarial dimension of rights in keeping with the concept’s historical role in empowering subordinate groups to challenge unjust relations of power and inequality.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Claiming from below: Rights, politics and social movements
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1470585
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