Interpretive Struggles Around Universal Rights and Diversity

Contemporary historical research on the history of human rights has recently gained considerable momentum. On the one hand, the focus has been on the human rights activism of non-state actors, which has intensified since the 1970s with analysis of socialist Eastern (Central) Europe as well as South and Central America. On the other hand, the KSZE-process put human rights firmly on the agenda of international politics.

With the end of the Cold War, human rights experienced a further substantial increase in importance as a point of reference for a new, Western-dominated and universally conceived internationalism. Since then, this model of an international value system with a tendency toward universal validity has been challenged many times. On the one hand, new particular identities have been constructed, especially through the categories of nation and region, ethnicity and religion, gender and sexual orientation, whereby the consideration of diversity in the human rights canon is often intended to do justice to the concrete concerns of certain groups, such as children, women, or LGBT+ people. On the other hand, nationalist and populist movements all over the world are increasingly opposing the claim of universal interpretations based on democratic human rights, which in recent years has increasingly been reflected in so-called backlash tendencies that are often decisively supported by authoritative decision-making bodies (such as Turkey’s recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention).

These developments are being investigated in this thematic field by a contemporary history project on interpretive struggles over the Yugoslav succession wars and their consequences in Europe and a social science project on interpretive struggles in the context of current cultural conflicts. In addition to these research projects, a flanking subproject will digitally process relevant sources on the history of human rights and make them accessible to the interested public.

The Yugoslav Wars and European Struggles over the Meaning of International Norms in the Early 1990s

Dr. Christian Methfessel & Prof. Dr. Andreas Wirsching
Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History

In the early 1990s, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars that followed triggered disputes among European governments and intense debates in parliaments, civil society organizations, and media outlets. Attempts to redraw political borders by force, as well as the scale of the violence, called into question fundamental norms of international politics.

The project analyzes European – especially British and German – reactions to the developments in the (post-)Yugoslav space, examining how public and non-public interpretive struggles influenced policy-making processes. Individual case studies focus on the disputes over the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and the establishment of the “International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.” In both cases, interpretive struggles over peace concepts and the future of Europe are scrutinized in order to discuss to what extent such struggles over meaning had an effect on political decision-making.

Conflicts over meanings on/with human rights

Dr. Michaela Zöhrer & Prof. Dr. Christoph Weller
Chair for Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies,
University of Augsburg

Activists, social movements, and NGOs worldwide have increasingly invoked human rights. When these rights are disregarded and violated, human rights language plays an important role for protest and demands in (trans)local struggles. At the same time, the conceptualization of human rights can itself be a source of controversy, especially when questioning them for their Western origin and claim to universality.

To explore the dynamic nature and struggles over and with human rights, a major focus of the social science project is on qualitative-empirical case studies.