University of Connecticut

Events Calendar

Doctoral Dissertation Defense, Cathy Buerger

Monday, April 18, 2016
1:00pm – 3:00pm

Storrs Campus
Class of 1947 Room, Homer Babbidge Library

Doctoral Dissertation Oral Defense of Catherine Buerger

“Claiming the State: The Impact of Human Rights Education and Legal Mobilization on Ghanaian Political Subjectivity”

Monday, April 18th, 2016 1:00-3:00pm Class of 1947 Room, Homer Babbidge Library

In this dissertation, I investigate the relationship between human rights participation and political subjectivity in Ghana. Specifically, I address the following questions: How does taking part in human rights activities (such as capacity building workshops, community forums, or lobbying efforts) inform the way that activists interpret themselves as citizens and “rights-holders”? How does this specific subjectivity influence the manner in which activists engage with political figures and the way that they deem acts legal or illegal, ethical or corrupt? And how do community activists engage with, and occasionally challenge, the particular versions of rights-claiming subjectivity endorsed by other loci of authority such as political parties or human rights NGOs? To answer these questions, I conducted 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in two low-income communities in Accra, Ghana.

In this dissertation, I argue that participating in human rights activities has had a long-lasting impact on the way that activists settle disputes, the frequency with which they contact government officials, and the way that they speak about corruption and the responsibilities of the state. Although many scholars have argued that the human rights system may be depoliticizing as it universalizes participants and contains their resistance within controllable state channels, I argue for a nuanced understanding of how social and historical contexts may affect the way that citizens encounter human rights and take on rights-bearing subjectivities. In the communities in which I worked, legacies of colonial urban planning and social exclusion have combined to produce a post-colonial environment where residents continue to feel excluded from the governmental processes that regulate their lives. Therefore, for activists living within these communities, even representing oneself in front of the government as an acceptable political subject may feel like a radical act and may have the potential to challenge existing power inequities and alter subjectivity in a way that it may not in other contexts.


Lyndsay Nalbandian (

Human Rights Institute (primary), UConn Master Calendar

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