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Emotions in the Mobilization of Rights
Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review
  • Kathryn Abrams, Berkeley Law
Publication Date
What is the relation between emotions and rights? It is not a question for which answers spring readily to mind, particularly for legal scholars. Rights may be conceived as inhering in, or being conferred upon, a post- Enlightenment, rationalist subject, who is hardly a creature brimming with affect. They may be associated, for some, with abstract claims of entitlement, and, for others, with intricate Hohfeldian frameworks that connect them with state or private obligations: neither association brings emotions to mind. Moreover, the literatures which explore the meaning, mobilization, recognition, and constitutive effects of rights provide little more guidance. Few acknowledge the emotions; those that do often neglect the diverse contexts of rights assertion, and the differentiation or social formation of emotions. This article aims to bridge these two worlds of imagery and understanding: to incite a conversation among legal scholars and actors about the role of emotions in the processes of rights assertion and recognition. In Part I, I offer an exploratory typology of the ways in which emotions may be implicated in the experiences of those who perceive, mobilize, or claim rights, and whose claims may be recognized by the public or embodied in law. In so doing, I highlight one literature in which the relations between emotions and rights are beginning to be explored: the sociology of social movements. In Part II, I examine two constellations of emotions that appear to be central in many accounts of emotion in the social movement literature. The first is a set of “reactive” emotions that respond to the violation of norms or entitlements: anger, outrage, and most centrally, indignation. And the second is a set of “reciprocal” emotions that emerge from connections among those who participate in social movements: respect, affection, trust, and hope. I argue that while rights mobilization in the legal context is in many ways a distinct phenomenon, these emotions may have distinct value in animating and sustaining those who claim legal rights. I ask what lawyers and other legal actors might do to attend to or encourage the emergence of these emotions among rights claimants in the legal system.
Citation Information
Kathryn Abrams, Emotions in the Mobilization of Rights, 46 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 551 (2011)