Jill concludes her discussion of Human Rights law and personal identity following on from the blog she wrote earlier this year, “Empowering rights in our environment“. This series of blogs has been adapted from Jill’s new book, Human Rights Law and Personal Identity.*
The book Human Rights Law and Personal Identity is not interested in simply describing what human rights laws say. It is about love, care, connection, dependence and independence, belonging, existing in the world and becoming who we want to be, and how human rights law relates to these ideas. The book is written from a theoretical stance based on a variety of sources, but with particular use of certain feminist insights and recognition theorists.
In using the framework of recognition, the inter-personal aspect of personal identity is acknowledged: who a person is, is created and developed in a social context of overlapping communities. How one is perceived by others, including the legal system: for example, in the form of lack of recognition of that person’s rights, can unfavourably impact on a person’s psychology and sense of his or her own identity. This can result in a vulnerability and incapacity, and shows how examining human rights law and personal identity involves ideas of justice, equality, dignity, and respect. For one such theorist, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, identity is:
‘partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others…a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.’ (p.25)
German philosopher Axel Honneth’s theory of the struggle for recognition describes identity-formation as depending on the development of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. These are acquired and maintained inter-subjectively, ‘through being granted recognition by others whom one also recognizes.’ (Honneth 1992, Translator’s Introduction at p.xi)
These theoretical works are combined with particular provisions of international human rights law to show the role that human rights law plays in the creation and protection of our identities.
We have plural identities but our ability to discern this and to choose what to make of the identities needs to be fostered in our environments. The social context of the capacity to choose is reflected by, and to a certain extent, can be determined by, politics, law and legal regulation. Depending on age, health, power structures, people can contribute to varying degrees to create and to change such conditions. These social conditions include legally formed policies that grant recognition through rights’ entitlements to human beings to develop self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. In taking this theoretical stance, the book examines how human rights law can assist in creating a safe and secure environment for our identities to be created, in families and in communities.
I hope you enjoy reading it and look forward to your feedback.
*Exclusive 20% discount for ERIC readers when you purchase Jill’s book, Human Rights Law and Personal Identity, online. Enter discount code LRK69 at the checkout – offer expires 31/12/2014.