The Aesthetics of Human Rights: Literature, Linguistics, Arts, History. - Special issue about Human Rights in the Humanities (Philosophy World Democracy)

Isabella Ferron's picture
Call for Papers
October 6, 2022 to November 5, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Human Rights, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy, World History / Studies

The debate on Human Rights is not new, as its conceptualization dates back to classical antiquity (Greece and Rome). However, it was in the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries that the discussion gained importance not only from a political point of view (cf. the debate on national identity), but also in literary, linguistic, artistic, and philosophical terms. Since then, the representation of the human condition through various artistic expressions illustrates how the idea of Human Rights gradually moved, and still proceeds, to the center of public opinion (cf. Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights). Therefore, literature and art – with their logics and absurdities – can decisively contribute to our understanding of humanity and the principles defined as Human Rights, while also making the concept of personal rights relevant, as we can observe in contemporary times.

Since its modern beginnings in the Enlightenment era, and especially after the French revolutionary spirit took hold of German intellectuals, who further developed its utopian character, the idea of Human Rights remains closely linked to it and, in fact, is continuously explored by literary and artistic practices. Beginning with an analysis of the relationship between literature, language, art, and Human Rights based on a critical reassessment of existing approaches as well as new theoretical and practical perspectives, this issue seeks to identify communicative strategies for addressing Human Rights in the literary production from the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the contemporary age.

In addition, phenomena such as colonial slavery, antisemitism, forced migrations, or the religious wars of the previous centuries, which had a strong influence on the emergence of public opinion and the growing interest in the rights of the individual, must also be considered in this context. In particular, at the end of the 18th century, literature and various artistic forms began to deal with political themes, understanding politics as the space for social discussion. The analysis we propose also takes into account postcolonial concerns that provide important perspectives for understanding the evolution of this debate.

As there is continuity between these two seemingly distant periods, an analysis of the reciprocal relationship between the seminal Human Rights discourse of the 18th and 19th centuries and the present can help to understand how literary and artistic production influences this idea and how it is perceived and/or adopted worldwide.

If one considers the limits of the Human Rights idea itself (Human Rights are practically not the ‘Rights of Men’ but of citizens), its literary and artistic expression can be problematic, especially if confined to abstract and utopian forms of thinking or reduced to another special topic on the global book market. To examine how literature studies Human Rights in their political and social concretization, this special issue draws on perspectives from the histories of the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, political theory, and history; to explore the global reach of the underlying idea of justice, it welcomes contributions that address the Eurocentric provenance of the idea of Human Rights and its complex subsequent history of development. The aim is to confront these articulations of Human Rights in order to transform and appropriate the concept in inventive ways. Do literature and art (produced in Europe and in all other parts of the world) contain strategies to do so?

A series of further questions may lead to a better understanding of these issues:

    1. In addition to the above-mentioned temporal focus on the transitional period from the 18th to the 19th century and our present day, which literary and artistic works from which historical periods, political regimes, or protest movements have had a significant influence on the social and political discourse of Human Rights? How could some works, that were relevant at the time, be unable to be influential at the present?
    2. How are Human Rights communicated and negotiated in different works of art and literature, time periods and cultures? Could one assume, that – in different times and culture there is a kind of genealogy of Human Rights? How are they perceived in the different cultures worldwide?
    3. How does the literary and artistic power of dismantling stereotypes and challenging stable identities change over history and geographic time zones?
    4. Besides engaging with everyday life themes and contents, what can be considered the most suitable literary and artistic forms for the popularization of Human Rights? What kind of language has been and is being used to popularize them in society and, consequently, to make them gain greater political value?
    5. What kind of textual, intellectual, critical-theoretical, sociological, and philosophical inquiry can we apply to the culture of ‘rights’: human rights, personal rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, etc.?
    6. How are Human Rights articulated when artistic and literary practices confront excessive manipulations of ‘personal rights’ – in the form of hate speech, inappropriate and offensive behavior, censorship, etc.?

The issue welcomes papers providing comparative and cross-cultural analyses pertaining to all parts of the world. The leading criteria to write your essays should be: 1) readability (please avoid hermetic discourse and implied knowledge shared by the “enlightened few”), 2) topicality (touching upon and dealing with issues that concern us all), and 3) brevity (the essay should not exceed 4000 words), however longer essays will be considered and appropriately prepared while working with the authors

To apply, please send a title, an abstract of 300-words and a short bionote to and by November 5th, 2022.


15.11: notification of acceptance;

end of February 2023: complete paper submission;

May 2023: publication


Contact Info: 

For any questions, please contact: Isabella Ferron ( or Ivana Perica (