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Taking a critical attitude of dissatisfaction towards rights, the central premise of this book is that rights are technologies of governmentality. They are a regulating discourse that is itself managed through governing tactics and techniques – hence governing (through) rights.
The opening chapter describes governmentality as a methodology that is then used to interrogate the relationship between rights and governance in three contexts: the international, regional and local. How rights regulate certain identities and conceptions of what is good governance is examined through the case study of non-state actors, specifically the humanitarian NGO, in the international setting; through a case study of rights agencies, and the role of experts, statistics and indicators, in the European Union or regional setting; and, in terms of the local, the challenge that the blossoming language of responsibility and volunteerism poses to rights in the name of less government (Big Society) is problematised.
The book also asks what counter-conducts are possible using rights language (questioning rioting as resistance), and whether counter-conduct can be read as an ethos of the political, rights-bearing subject. Thus, the book bridges a divide between critical theory (ie Foucauldian understandings of power as governmentality) and human rights law.