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Human Rights Writing: Activist Composition in a Global World

Paolini, Andrea Rose (2024) Human Rights Writing: Activist Composition in a Global World. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the intersection of human rights and writing in global contexts, emphasizing the link between rhetoric, genre theory, and the shaping of human rights discourse. It argues that written documents play a pivotal role in human rights action. The failure to integrate human rights discourse into composition studies is a missed opportunity, limiting discussions of social justice to local and national issues and neglecting their global impact. Working within a theoretical framework that positions genres as dynamic and context-driven social actions, I demonstrate how genres play a significant role in shaping human rights realities. I begin by analyzing the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, showing how they construct a collective humanity with moral authority over nation-states, while also reinforcing state sovereignty. The tension between the idealized moral concept of human rights and their manifestation as law is explored, exemplified by the UN Charter's dual characterization as a charter and a treaty. This tension persists in subsequent human rights writing as a gap between human rights ideals and practical effects. Texts such as human rights reports, and demonstrations of grassroots activism, like Amnesty International's letter campaigns, are caught between asserting humanity's authority over States while grappling with the State autonomy imposed by the charter and treaty genres. Having identified these dynamics of human rights writing through the constitutive and epistemic act of composing human rights genres, I turn to a case study of the Tumaini Festival and Homestay Program at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi to explore the ways refugee activists deploy genres of the hospitality industry to reposition refugees as individuals with agency and economic value. This reframing offers refugees access to essential resources and opportunities, challenging the “rhetoric of illegibility” defining protracted encampment. This dissertation concludes by encouraging compositionists to engage critically but generatively with the intersections of human rights and writing studies to improve the work and impact of both in global issues of social justice.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Paolini, Andrea Rosearp121@pitt.eduarp121
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGwiazda,
Committee MemberHidalgo,
Committee MemberBickford,
Committee MemberGoodhart,
Committee MemberParks,
Date: 10 January 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 October 2023
Approval Date: 10 January 2024
Submission Date: 6 December 2023
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 189
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: human rights composition studies genre theory
Additional Information: Corrections made as requested
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2024 14:25
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2024 14:25

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