Fiction and Human Rights Network

admin - 22nd January 2015

Fiction and Human Rights Network

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) is pleased to announce its new network, ‘Fiction and Human Rights.’ This network is primarily a collaboration between the University of Oxford Faculties of English and Law. It is convened by Natasha Simonsen (Law) and Tessa Roynon (English).

Our concern is less the broad and well-trodden territory of the relationship between literature and law, and more the specific focus on the relationship between the novel – in its many languages, forms and politics – and the legal/political discourse of human rights. We aim to analyze the ways in which to couple human rights with fiction is to illuminate the ambiguities and the potential within each sphere.

While many who work in the Humanities dream of ‘being useful’, of making a genuine contribution to ‘the public good’, others scorn the concept of ‘fiction as applied human rights’. Lawyers, meanwhile, are often too busy being useful, and defending real people’s human rights, to take time out to reflect on the theoretical, aesthetic and ‘humanist’ issues underpinning their words and actions. When the concerns of the real world are so pressing, what on earth do imagined worlds have to offer?

Our network members come from a range of disciplines beyond English and Law: from History, Modern Languages, Philosophy, Politics and International Relations, Theology, and Classics, and from administrative positions across the University. We are fortunate to count among our membership key players in a range of pre-existing forums: besides the Oxford Human Rights Hub, we are networked with the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations; the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Wolfson College; and the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. We shall also involve PEN and Amnesty in our activities, as well as practising lawyers and novelists.

Our programme begins in Michaelmas 2015, with a one-day symposium taking place on Saturday 7th November. Our theme is ‘Dignity and the Novel since 1948’. This event will explore the ways in which the ever-evolving forms and concerns of the modern/contemporary novel might (or might not) shed light on debate about the status and function of human dignity within recent legal theory and practice. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has kindly agreed to be one of the keynote speakers at this symposium, and there will be a roundtable featuring an eclectic mix of Oxford scholars.

New members of the network, and of the steering group, are always welcome. We encourage the participation of postgraduate students and of those who are early in their careers as well as those who are more established. For more information about the network and/or the event on 7th November 2015, please e-mail: or

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