Watch CeCIL's Annual Lecture with Professor Susan Marks: 'Have you seen dignity?'

Kent’s Centre for Critical International Law (CeCIL) has released a recording of this year’s Annual Lecture in which Professor Susan Marks, from the London School of Economics, offers a critical exploration of dignity and its worldliness.

Professor Marks filmed her talk ‘Have you seen dignity?’ (without an audience) at Kent earlier this month after restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the event could not proceed as originally planned.

Speaking also on behalf of Dr Sara Kendall who co-directs CeCIL with him, Dr Luis Eslava said: ‘Having it recorded for online circulation was our way to express our solidarity with our friends and colleagues across the world who are facing, like communities in general, many challenges posed by the current crisis and who are searching for new ways to make sense of it.’

Professor Marks’s talk (the title of which is inspired by lyrics from the Bob Dylan song “Dignity”) begins by tracking the word dignity as it pops up in everyday life. She goes on to consider dignity within the context of academic writing across the disciplines of philosophy, legal scholarship, health and social care, sociology, and anthropology. Finally, she discusses the politics of dignity, indignity and indignation.

Dr Eslava said: ‘Professor Marks explores the tension between a view of dignity as inherent, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggests, and the material conditions required for it to be maintained. Her treatment of South African constitutional jurisprudence on water access in impoverished townships illustrates what is at stake in this encounter. Turning to works of literature and postcolonial studies, Marks then shows how dignity forms part of a political and economic order bound up with privilege and colonial legacies. A decolonial approach illustrates how dignity is entangled with histories of indignity. Revealing that dignity has a price and continues to be unevenly distributed offer starting points for a more radical agenda.’

Professor Marks’s research is concerned with international lawhuman rights and the global political economic order. She is the author of The Riddle of All Constitutions, International Human Rights Lexicon (co-authored with Andrew Chapman) and A False Tree of Liberty. She is the editor of International Law on the Left. Her research seeks to bring insights from critical social theory to the study of international law and human rights.

CeCIL is an innovative research centre which aims to foster critical approaches to the field of international law. The Annual Lecture aims to celebrate the work of international law scholars, practitioners and activists, from across the world, who strive to advance more just and less destructive ways for us all to exist. Previous speakers have included Professor Richard Drayton (King’s College London), Professor Anne Orford (Melbourne Law School), Professor Peer Zumbansen (King’s College London), Professor Gerry Simpson (London School of Economics) and Professor Vasuki Nesiah (New York University).

Dr Eslava said: ‘At the heart of the work that we celebrate with these Annual Lectures is a commitment to both interdisciplinarity, and a profound respect for the field that brings us together: international law. We embrace that respect in a critical way, which for us means studying the international legal order in its current and possible future relations to the global political economic order, the natural environment, and our global society.’

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