In popular, legal, and academic discourses, the term "human rights" is now almost always discussed in relation to its opposite: human rights abuses. Syllabi, textbooks, and articles focus largely on victimization and trauma, with scarcely a mention of a positive dimension. Joy, especially, is often discounted and disregarded. William Paul Simmons asserts that there is a time and place—and necessity—in human rights work for being joyful.
Joyful Human Rights leads us to challenge human rights' foundations afresh. Focusing on joy shifts the way we view victims, perpetrators, activists, and martyrs; and mitigates our propensity to express paternalistic or heroic attitudes toward human rights victims. Victims experience joy—indeed, it is often what sustains them and, in many cases, what best facilitates their recovery from trauma. Instead of reducing individuals merely to victim status or the tragedies they have experienced, human rights workers can help harmed individuals reclaim their full humanity, which includes positive emotions such as joy.
A joy-centered approach provides new insights into foundational human rights issues such as motivations of perpetrators , trauma and survivorship, the work of social movements and activists, philosophical and historical origins of human rights, and the politicization of human rights. Many concepts rarely discussed in the field play important roles here, including social erotics, clowning, dancing, expressive arts therapy, posttraumatic growth, and the Buddhist terms metta (loving kindness) and mudita (sympathetic joy). Joyful Human Rights provides a new framework—one based upon a more comprehensive understanding of human experiences—for theorizing and practicing a more affirmative and robust notion of human rights.
William Paul Simmons is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Director of the online Human Rights Practice graduate program at the University of Arizona. He is the author of Human Rights Law and the Marginalized Other and An-Archy and Justice: An Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas's Political Thought. He is also coeditor, with Carol Mueller, of Binational Human Rights: The U.S.-Mexico Experience, which is also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"A bold, original, and ambitious book that makes a powerful case for incorporating joy into the scholarship and practice of human rights. It charts a new avenue of research and activism and offers a rich and rewarding intellectual journey."—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside
"Joyful Human Rights is fascinating and unorthodox. In recasting the philosophical, historical, and phenomenological dynamics of human rights with an eye toward the phenomenon of joy, William Paul Simmons reveals a full and nuanced picture of the humans involved in human rights, the advocacy efforts necessary to the ongoing propagation of such rights, and the logic of human rights themselves."—Jenna Reinbold, Colgate University