The Rights Bearing Subject in Early Modern European Rights Discourses - Class, Gender, and Colonialism

January 24, 2012
Human Rights Studies, Department of History, Lund University

SOL-centrum, room L403
Helgonabacken 12


  • Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation


Gunlög Fur
Linnaeus University
Lena Halldenius
Lund University
Ilse Paakkinen
University of Helsinki
Madeline C. Zilfi
University of Maryland, College Park


Lena Halldenius
Lund University

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The Rights Bearing Subject  in Early Modern European Rights Discourses – Class, Gender, and Colonialism

This is the concluding symposium in a series of four, organized by Human Rights Studies at Lund University, exploring human rights in history. Financial support by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation). Enquiries to: Lena Halldenius ([email protected])

When and where? Tuesday 24 January 2012. Venue: SOL-centrum, room L403 (Centre for Languages and Literature, room L403)


10.15 Lena Halldenius, Lund University. Welcome and introduction


10.30-11.30 Gunlög Fur, Linnaeus University

Who is Human? The Problem of Early Modern Encounters with American Indians

The European encounter with the New World at the end of the fifteenth century forced scholars and theologians to grapple with ideas of human origins and what constituted humanity. In this position paper I argue that this encounter profoundly influenced European arguments on universal rights and also on definitions of civilization. Conversely, as a consequence of encounters indigenous peoples chose another path, that of developing arguments for separate rights. Universal claims, however well intentioned, force multiplicity into one hierarchy. In response to such claims indigenous peoples found themselves in a position where their only recourse was to respond with claims of specificity and of difference. Such arguments spun their way into judicial, religious, and secular discourse on both sides of the Atlantic.




11.45-12.45 Madeline C. Zilfi, University of Maryland, College Park

Ottoman Reformism and the Rise of Public Man

Discusses the transformation of public sector employ in the Ottoman Empire from slavish servility to a model of rights-bearing officialdom. An explicit discourse of rights emerged in the Ottoman Middle East in the early nineteenth century, but its empowering reach was limited at the start by the conceptualization of rights in terms of freedoms from rather than freedoms to. Notwithstanding that blinkered framing, administrative and military officers as of the late 1820s were for the first time able to enjoy a career in public service without fear of property confiscation or arbitrary execution for some royally perceived failing; both of these punishments owed their questionable legitimacy not to shari’ah law but to the ruler’s unchecked will.

12.45-14.00 Lunch


14.00-15.00 Ilse Paakkinen, University of Helsinki

The Rights and Humanity of Women in Christine de Pizan’s Thought

In this paper I will discuss the rights of women in Christine de Pizan’s (1365 – ca. 1430) thought. I shall attest that Christine’s defence of women’s rights is comparable to the early development of natural rights thought. The paper will divide in four sections. Firstly, I will briefly explain gender and humanity according to Christine as well as her idea of the mutability of gender. Secondly, I will discuss Christine’s conception of law, namely divine, natural and written law. Thirdly, I will discuss women’s rights both on a conceptual and pragmatic level. Finally, I will compare Christine’s argumentation to that of the early natural rights theorists, such as Jean Gerson.


15.15-16.15 Lena Halldenius, Lund University

Slaves, Labourers and other Things Owned. On Rights and Property in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Feminism

My aim here is to understand the role and function of property in Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist politics. Property figures significantly in almost all of Wollstonecraft’s writings. She makes free use of the terminology of natural rights. It signals her political allegiances and also provides her with a recognizable language for expressing certain things about morality. Still, there is no indication that she accepted property as a part of the natural rights of man. I hope to make the point that property for Wollstonecraft is a political fact, not a natural right, and that its fair dissemination is a political duty for the sake of the natural right to equal liberty. This requires an assessment of two things: first, property in relation to the person; second, the nature of nature, if you will, or, less extravagantly, the relation between what is natural and what is artificial. With that in place I will try to show that a radical critique of property is a defining feature of Wollstonecraft’s feminism.


Concluding reflections

Supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond

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