Human rights, humanitarianism, and the practices of humanity

This article uses the concept of international practices to explore the distinctions between human rights and humanitarianism in the contemporary period and, in turn, uses this exploration to comment on the concept of international practices. First section proposes to advance the theoretical and empirical utility of the concept of practices by parsing it into the ‘problem’ that sets the story in motion, what counts as competent action, background knowledge, and meanings. Second section applies this framework to the relationship between human rights and humanitarianism. Beginning in the 1990s, they began responding to many of the same material realities, which unleashed two, interrelated, processes, but had different ways of understanding competent action, background knowledge, and meanings. They began to revise their practices not only in response to new challenges but also to how the other evolved, generating new distinctions. These points of distinction were structured by different kinds of suffering and informed their contrasting narratives of precarity in the case of humanitarianism, and progress in human rights. The conclusion considers how this discussion of human rights and humanitarianism redirects contemporary research on international practices.

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