Towards a radical conception of social rights
Konstantine Eristavi, Konstantine
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This thesis intends to demonstrate the radical potential of rights. I argue that rights are capable, on the one hand, of challenging capitalist social relations and the liberal legal order which sustains those relations, and, on the other hand, of constituting a new political system. I argue that without reconceptualising rights in this manner, we are unable to comprehend certain social movements which employ the language of rights for challenging the existing systems and for articulating transformative visions of a new world. This thesis suggests that we need to rethink rights as political alliances and agreements and rights-claims as political proposals between co-citizens. Here, the content of rights is formulated through a political action of the rights-holders themselves, as opposed to being derived from the pre-political sphere. Furthermore, I argue that our understanding of the scope of these political proposals and, hence, our understanding of the nature of the new order that rights can potentially constitute, depends on the way we conceptualise the conflictual dimension of rights-claims. It is the notion of a rights-claim as a challenge to the constituted order, as opposed to a petition to be included within that order, which captures how rights inaugurate a radical discursive space where potentially transformative political proposals regarding the matters of collective life can be made. Throughout this thesis I refer to a transnational movement of peasants, La Via Campesina, which fights for a new socio-political arrangement where ‘feeding the world’ is the end in itself rather than a dictate of the capitalist market. Crucially, this movement makes extensive use of the language of rights and of ‘the right to food’ in particular. I argue that it is only the radical theory of social rights constructed in this thesis that allows us to analyse the transformative core of the movements like this one.