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Universalizing the Promise of Empire

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This paper reconstructs the French government’s response to accusations of rights abuses in Algeria, drawing on material from the drafting of reports to the UN about human rights in the colonies, negotiations with the Red Cross about prisoners in Algeria, and discussions of how to respond to petitions received by the UN. Throughout, France offered a narrative that relied on ideas about education and tutelage in order to render a commitment to rights compatible with ongoing colonial violence. Tracing several scandals in the metropole over French action in Algeria, I look at the relationship between this narrative of gradual universalization and the accusations of hypocrisy that France faced from its critics at the time, and in historical accounts now, to consider how different understandings of human rights hypocrisy relate to narratives of gradual universalization.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER : Dr Mackinnon holds a PhD in political science from the University of Chicago, and is currently a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel College.

ABOUT THE SEMINAR : The seminar will proceed on the basis that participants have read the paper in advance.

The Legal Histories beyond the State series is an initiative of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, the Centre for History and Economics, and the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought. It brings together historians, political theorists and lawyers who are interested in the social, economic and political dimensions of law in the early modern and modern periods. We focus on the ways in which law and legal institutions order and organize space and people. This encompasses both imperial and international law, and domestic public and private law in its manifold influences on the nature and form of relations across borders. We are interested in legal actors and institutions, both national and supranational; doctrines and concepts, like jurisdiction; and also diverse forms of legal border-crossing, including the migration of people, ideas and objects across time and place. Embracing new trends in legal and historical research, we pursue the exchange of legal ideas in formal and informal contexts, and the creation, appropriation and interpretation of law by non-traditional actors, and in unexpected places.

Some sessions will be devoted to discussion of new, published work in the field, and others to the sharing of works-in-progress, whether draft articles, chapters or book prospectuses, with a core group of scholars from a variety of disciplines.

This talk is part of the Legal Histories beyond the State series.

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