2009-10 Study Group Details

Foundational Readings: (Should be read as background to any session)



Spring Semester 2010


Feb. 5  Enchanted by a Chimera: Has 'Human Rights' Discourse Colonized the "Free Burma" Movement?

With Elliott Prasse-Freeman
Note Special Time and Venue: 2:30-4:00pm, Bolton Classroom, Littauer 130.

The tentative argument, subject to challenge by study group participants, is that the discourse of 'Human Rights' has actually colonized Burma's political opposition, overwriting the socio-cultural and political experiences and idioms that emerge from Burmese society with the pseudo-'universal' normative claims and demands of 'Human Rights' discourse.

The phenomenon has had the unfortunate effect of creating an external dependency, preventing the political opposition from connecting with the political realities inside the country.

Based on Prasse-Freeman's eight years experience on Burma (including living in Yangon in 2004/2005 and recently returning from a month of field work in Yangon and on the Thai/Burma border), the discussion will cover Burma politics, but will move to broader discussions of the politics and power-effects of human rights discourse.


Feb. 19  Social Movements and Human Dignity: Why Do People Seek Social Change?

With James Jasper. James Jasper's research and theory on social movements has emphasized two dimensions, their emotions and their strategic choices. What these tend to share is a respect for their subject matter and a concern for human capacities.

Preparatory Readings:


March 22  Shifting Patterns of Dissent and Repression in a Changing China

With Jeffrey Wasserstrom. This talk will look at continuities and changes since the late 1970s in the things that have led Chinese citizens to write manifestos criticizing the government or take to the streets, and at the ways state responses to these activities have changed.

The starting point will be the Democracy Wall Movement, which led to Wei Jingsheng being sentenced to 15 years in prison for his famous "Fifth Modernization" poster, and the ending point will be Liu Xiaobo's sentencing to 11 years in prison for subversion last Christmas (due to his role in the "Charter '08" movement), with stops at the Tiananmen movement of 1989 and other pivotal events in between. In surveying this terrain, while some worrisome similarities between past and present will be noted, attention will be paid to significant shifts over time in causes and modes of popular action, and the way activists are treated. Emphasis will also be put on the need to think beyond the "dissident/loyalist" binary that shapes much media coverage of China, for there is a spectrum of political positions stakes out in the PRC these days, with room between those who directly challenge and those who accept all aspects of the system for critical intellectuals and single-issue activists trying to work within the status quo yet gain redress for particular grievances.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is a Professor of Chinese History at the University of California, Irvine, the Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, and a co-founder of the "China Beat" blog/electronic magazine. He is the author of four books, including China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (forthcoming from Oxford University Press in April), and the editor or co-editor of several others, including Human Rights and Revolutions (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000 and 2007 editions). He writes regularly for both academic and general interest publications, from the Nation and New Left Review to Time and Newsweek, was a consultant for a prize-winning documentary film on 1989 ("The Gate of Heavenly Peace"), and was a recent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition" (where he was interviewed about the meaning of the Dalai Lama's meeting with President Obama).

Preparatory Readings:


March 26, 3-4:30pm  Our Bondage, Our Freedom: The Long History of Slavery and Abolition.

Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Director, Human Rights and Social Movements Program, will present a talk entitled, "Our Bondage, Our Freedom: The Long History of Slavery and Abolition."

Preparatory Readings:


April 16, 3-4:30pm  A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today's America.

Ron Soodalter, co-author (with Kevin Bales) of The Slave Next Door, will present a talk entitled, "A Blight on the Nation: Slavery in Today's America."

Historically, we Americans see ourselves as the world?s foremost messengers and practitioners of personal freedom. We believe ours is a nation where, for the first time in man?s history, slavery no longer has a place. And yet, there has never been a single day without slavery on this continent, from its European discovery right up to the present moment. However, where the ante-bellum slaves were a sign of status, today?s forms of slavery are hidden, insidious, and often nearly impossible to detect.

According to a U.S. State Department study, some 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved each year. Some victims are smuggled into the U.S. across the Mexican and Canadian borders; others arrive at our major airports daily, carrying either real or forged papers. The old slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the 747. Victims come here from Africa, Asia, India, Latin America, and the former Soviet Republic. Overwhelmingly, they come on the promise of a better life, with the opportunity to work and prosper in America. Many come in the hope of earning enough money to support or send for their families. They fork over their life savings, and go into debt to people who make promises they have no intention of keeping, and instead of opportunity, when they arrive they find bondage. They can be found ? or more accurately, not found ? in all 50 states, working as farmhands, domestics, sweatshop and factory laborers, gardeners, restaurant and construction workers, sex slaves and prostitutes. These people do not represent a class of poorly paid employees, working at jobs they might not like. They were bought and sold specifically to work, they are unable to leave, and are forced to live under the constant threat and reality of violence. By any definition, they are slaves. Nor are native-born Americans immune from slavers; some sources, including the federal government, estimate in the hundreds of thousands the number of U.S. citizens ? primarily children ? stolen or enticed from the streets of their own cities and towns annually. Today, we call it human trafficking, but make no mistake: It is the slave trade.

In this presentation, we will familiarize the listener with the various types of slavery rampant in America; we will also point up some of the ways in which we as citizens can make ourselves more aware of the problem, and become more involved in its ultimate eradication.

Biography: Ron Soodalter is a writer, a passionate educator, and a respected historian. He holds a B.A. in American History from Boston University, an M.A. in Education from New York University, and an M.A. in American Folk Culture from the State University of New York. A lifelong student of American history, he has taught extensively, and has worked as curator of a history museum. Ron was retained as a consultant by the New York State Historical Association, and was named to the Board of Directors of the 10-state Mountain-Plains Museum Conference. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. Soodalter recently saw the publication of his book, Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader (Atria), the non-fiction account of the only man in U.S. history to be executed for the crime of slave trading. He is also the co-author, with Free the Slaves president Kevin Bales, of The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today (UC Press, 2009), and teaches classes and seminars to various age groups on the historic and modern-day slave trade. He has written articles for such magazines as Smithsonian, New York Archives, and Civil War Times, and is a featured columnist for America?s Civil War.

Preparatory Readings:

  • An Excerpt from Chapter 3, “Slaves in the Pastures of Plenty,” in The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter (UC Press, 2009).




Fall Semester 2009


Sept. 18  Margin or Mainstream:  Is Human Rights a Social Movement?

A discussion of how social movements have shaped human rights discourse with Timothy Patrick McCarthy and Elliott Prasse-Freeman.

Preparatory Readings:

View Notes from the Meeting


Sept. 25  On Gender and Justice:  Can Feminism Go Global?

A discussion of the global implications of feminism with Kim Gandy, Fall Institute of Politics Fellow and former president, National Organization for Women.

Preparatory Readings:


Oct. 16  The Politics of Identity:  Are Gay Rights and Civil Rights Human Rights?

A discussion of the problem of coalition building in rights-based social movements with Rev. Irene Monroe, activist, theologian, and Huffington Post blogger.

Preparatory Readings:

View Notes from the Meeting


Oct. 30  On Difference and Domination:  Can Islamists Have Human Rights?

A discussion of human rights in the Middle East with Sayres Rudy, visiting professor, Hampshire College, and Malalai Joya, Afghan Parliamentarian.

Preparatory Readings:


Nov. 13  Opiate of the Masses or Tool of Liberation:  What’s God Got to Do With It?

A discussion of the Accra Confession with Jonathan Page, Epps Fellow and assistant chaplain, The Memorial Church, and Susan Abraham, assistant professor, Harvard Divinity School.

Preparatory Readings:


Dec. 2  Suspending Indigenous Rights: Paternalism and Coercion
             in Australia's 'Intervention' in Aboriginal Communities.

A special brown-bag lunch talk by Sarah Maddison, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University of South Wales.

Please Note Venue Change: This event has been moved.
New Location: Malkin Penthouse (Top Floor, Littauer Center).

Co-sponsored by The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Preparatory Readings:

Sarah Maddison, Ph.D., is an Australian author and Senior Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at University of New South Wales. She is also acting Deputy Director of the Indigenous Policy and Dialogue Research Unit under the direction of Professor Patrick Dodson and Chair of the Board of The Australia Institute, an independent progressive think tank. She has published widely in the areas of young women and feminist activism, social movements, non-government organisations and democracy. Dr. Maddison’s research is primarily in the field of Australian social movements, including current research on the Indigenous rights movement and the women’s movement. Her books include Activist Wisdom (2006, with Sean Scalmer), Silencing Dissent (2007, co-edited with Clive Hamilton), and Collective Identity and Australian Feminist Activism (2008). She has also co-authored, with Emma Partridge, the gender and sexuality audit reports for the Democratic Audit of Australia (2007). Her most recent book, Black Politics, which explores the complexity of Aboriginal political culture, was published by Allen and Unwin early in 2009 and was recently awarded the Henry Mayer Trust Prize for the best book on Australian politics. Dr. Maddison received a 2009 Churchill Fellowship to study models of Indigenous representation in the United States and Canada in 2010.


Dec. 4  Disposable or Indispensable:  Why Does Slavery Still Exist?

A discussion of modern-day slavery and human trafficking with Ben Skinner and Siddharth Kara, Carr Center Fellows.

Preparatory Readings: