Joseph R. Slaughter

Joseph Slaughter is the Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and a member of The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University, Slaughter specializes in postcolonial literatures (particularly from Latin America and Africa), international law, and socio-cultural histories of the Global South. His research and teaching focus on the social work of literature—the myriad ways in which literature intersects (formally, historically, ideologically, materially) with problems of social justice, human rights, intellectual property, and international law.
Professor Slaughter’s honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award, the Abigail R. Cohen Fellowship at the Institute for Ideas and Imagination (Paris), and a Public Voices Fellowship. His first book Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law, which explores the cooperative narrative logics of international human rights law and the Bildungsroman genre of the novel, was awarded the 2008 René Wellek prize for comparative literature and cultural theory. He served seven years in the leadership of the American Comparative Literature Association, including his election as President in 2016.
Slaughter has published many influential articles on literatures of the Global South, human rights, intellectual property, international law, and decolonization in a wide range of journals, including: “A Question of Narration: The Voice in International Human Rights Law” and “Hijacking Human Rights: Neoliberalism, the New Historiography, and the End of the Third World” in Human Rights Quarterly; “Pathetic Fallacies: Personification and the Unruly Subjects of International Law,” in London Review of International Law; “Vanishing Points: When Narrative Is Not Simply There,” in The Journal of Human Rights; “Humanitarian Reading,” in Humanitarianism and Suffering: The Mobilization of Empathy through Narrative; “Life, Story, Violence: What Narrative Doesn’t Say,” in Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development; “The Enchantment of Human Rights; or, What Difference Does Humanitarian Indifference Make?” in Critical Quarterly; “Enabling Fictions and Novel Subjects: The Bildungsroman and International Human Rights Law,” in PMLA; “Introducing Human Rights and Literary Form; Or, the Vehicles and Vocabularies of Human Rights,” in Comparative Literature Studies; “Who Owns the Means of Expression?” in The b2o Review; “World Literature as Property,” in Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics; “After Freedom: Literature, Human Rights Law, and the Return of Decolonization,” forthcoming in Decolonizing the English Curriculum.
Slaughter was a founding co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development. He co-edited a volume of essays, The Global South Atlantic, that explores some of the many social, cultural, political, and material interactions across the oceanic space between Africa and Latin America that have made it historically (im)possible to imagine the South Atlantic as a cohesive region, outlined in “The Sea of International Politics: Fluidity, Solvency, and Drift in The Global South Atlantic.” He is currently completing two monographs: “New Word Orders: Intellectual Property, Piracy, and the Globalization of the Novel,” which considers the role of plagiarism and piracy in the creation of contemporary world literature and international IP regimes, as well the work that the novel might do to interrupt globalization and to resist monopoly privatization of cultural and intellectual resources; and “Behind Human Rights,” which examines the rise of human rights and development discourse in the period of political decolonization from the 1960s-80s from the perspective of Third World aspirations and approaches, considering especially the peculiar roles that colonial charter companies and transnational corporations played in the creation of international human rights law.
Joseph Slaughter
Institute for the Study of Human Rights