Katja Kurz
Ph.D. Candidate and Visiting Scholar, Columbia University, New York, Institute for the Study of Human Rights





Katja Kurz, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University explores the intriguing nexus between the discourse of human rights, and the interlocking role of advocacy in the humanities. Kurz notes that over the course of human history, conceptions of human rights have traveled in a myriad of ‘vehicles’, one of which has been the humanities, spanning social sciences and literary and cultural studies. In particular, literature emerging from the humanities has been successfully employed by human rights advocates in efforts to better reach policymakers and the general public. The messaging power of popular media forms – coupled with underlying normative statements about human rights – is seen to form a societal discourse of sorts. How, in fact, will this ongoing dialogue evolve in the next century? Touching upon the place of new social media forms, the increasingly common adoption of life narratives by human rights campaigners, and the role of institutions in supporting interdisciplinary engagement, Kurz suggests that a variety of learning opportunities await human rights advocacy groups.

Additional Resources

  • Kurz, Katja (2010). “Insanity and Humor in Latino Autobiography: A Case Study of Culture Clash.” In Living American Studies. Edited by Carmen Birkle, Mita Banerjee et al. Heidelberg: Winter University Press, 95-117.
  • Kurz, Katja (2011, forthcoming). “Life Writing and Environmental Activism in Kenya: The Case of Wangari Maathai.” In Ecology and Life Writing. Edited by Alfred Hornung, Zhao Baisheng et al. Heidelberg: Winter University Press.
  • Beverley, John (2004). Testimonio: On the Politics of Truth. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Dawes, James (2007). That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Gready, Paul (2010). “Responsibility to the Story.” In Journal of Human Rights Practice (Volume 2.2): 177-190.
  • Hesford, Wendy S.  and Wendy Kozol, eds (2005). Just Advocacy? Women’s Human Rights, Transnational Feminism, and the Politics of Representation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Sanders, Mark (2007). Ambiguities of Witnessing: Law and Literature in the Time of a Truth Commission. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Sanford, Victoria and Asale Angel-Ajani, eds (2006). Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy, and Activism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Schaffer, Kay and Sidonie Smith (2004). Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Slaughter, Joseph R. (2007). Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law. New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Whitlock, Gillian (2007). Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Recorded on March 2011