Call for Papers - Critical Thinking on Human Rights & Memory Workshop

The Humanities Institute, School of Sociology (University College Dublin) and the Memory Studies Association



Dates: 6-7 February 2019

Venue: UCD Humanities Institute, University College Dublin, Ireland

Deadline for abstract submission: 15 September 2018

Notification of outcomes: 15 November 2018

Organisers: Human Rights and Memory Working Group (Memory Studies Association) and UCD Humanities Institute and the School of Sociology

Keynote speaker: Carol Kidron, Anthropology Department, Haifa University

Short description:

‘Human rights’ developed historically as a critique of power but gradually came to be embedded in global governance, transforming into a powerful force. Both human rights and memory discourses grew out of legal, moral and philosophical discourses about genocide and rights violations after WWII. Memory has been invoked as a necessary foundation for human rights discourse and to laws that uphold human rights. The last few decades have witnessed the proliferation of a human rights memorialization agenda and the rise of memorialization standards and policy-oriented attempts to engage societies around the globe (in particular post-conflict and transitional spaces) to develop and adopt specific normative forms of remembrance. This has numerous implications not only for current global politics but also for our day-to-day lives. Those forms of human rights memorialization are based and developed, first and foremost, on various idealistic assumptions, such as the belief that the memory of genocide as ‘a crime against humanity’ might prevent future genocides from happening, often ascribing a panacea effect to “proper memorialization”. The emergence of the standardization of memory is based on the assumption that remembering past human rights abuses in a particular way is effective in promoting universalist human rights values in conflict and post-conflict settings. The attempts to incorporate memorialization processes as an integral part of the human rights regime is due to the radical jump from a ‘duty to remember’, as a notion that was meant to bring debates over contested pasts into the public sphere, to a policy-oriented ‘proper way of remembrance’, designed and envisioned through the normative standardization of memory. “Standardization of memory” refers to the historical generative process of the development of a standardized set of norms, promoted through the human rights infrastructures of world polity, that prescribes for societies how to deal with the legacies of mass human rights abuses. Over time, this shift from ‘duty to remember’ as an awareness-oriented process to a policy-oriented, normative ‘proper way of remembrance’ provided a set of policies and a tool kit of practices that aims to advance the human rights vision of memorialization processes as a means of promoting democratic, human rights values across the globe.

However, some fundamental tension remains between different imperatives within memory and human rights: among those, the right to forget and the duty to remember. This workshop aims at developing a critical perspective focusing on the question of what happens to memorialization processes once human rights ideology pushes states and societies to comply to certain memorialization standards. What happens, during this process, to memorialization practices (such as commemorations, political art, dialogue groups, counter-memory museums, memorial architecture, monuments, etc.) in the shift from duty to remember as a democratic and awareness-oriented process to the policy-oriented proper way of remembrance, a regime that prescribes how to remember certain segments of the past? What happens in the transition from a nationalist framework to a more human rights-centred framework of remembrance? Is this a voluntary or a coercive process? Which forms of memorialization are emerging because of this shift? How successful is this human rights memorialization agenda in promoting human rights values on the ground? These are just some of the questions that invite further critical and value-neutral discussion that will be engaged with in this workshop.

We invite researchers from all disciplinary paths to join us and to contribute to this novel and increasingly important discussion.

Aims of the workshop:

• To critically explore the genealogical foundations and assumptions of the historical intersections between human rights and memory.

• To understand the context of, the reasons for, and the impact of the shift from ‘duty to remember’ as an awareness-oriented process to a policy-oriented, ‘proper way of remembrance’.

• To understand, explain and define “standardization of memory” from the historical, regional, cultural and political perspective.

• To distinguish and conceptualize the impact human rights memory activism and its normative application has, on the ground, for critical, value-neutral thinking.

• To explore the main human rights memorialization assumptions and their effects on the ground in particular in relation to production of simplified categories such as victims, perpetrators, bystanders, trauma, reconciliation, etc.

• To assess the role of discursive practices, as opposed to material environments, in processes of standardization of memory around the globe.


Significant time will be dedicated to discussion, the aim of which is to crystallize conceptual vocabulary in order to critically address the intersection between human rights and memory. Also, one session will be dedicated to a guided discussion. We wish to establish a small core group around those questions, and thus we expect all participants to be present during the entire workshop. Although we do not ask that participants submit an entire paper, we do encourage it and those who do so will receive feedback on their current work.

Unfortunately, we are not able to refund travel or accommodation expenses but light catering during the course of the workshop will be provided, including a reception at the end of the first day.


Please submit a short abstract (up to 500 words) and a short biographical statement (up to 300 words) in a single PDF document by 15 September 2018 to

Notifications of outcomes will be sent out by 15 November 2018.

Principal Organisers:

MSA Human Rights and Memory Working Group Co-chairs:

Lea David is currently a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin.

Gruia Badescu is a Research Associate at the School of Geography, University of Oxford.

Taylor McConnell is a PhD Researcher in Sociology at the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.