Solidarity as Social Transformation: Towards a Queer Humanism Open Access

Helfrich, Erin Regina (2009)

Permanent URL:


Solidarity as Social Transformation: Towards a Queer Humanism
By Erin Regina Helfrich

A philosophical dilemma lies at the heart of contemporary human rights
scholarship: any account of human rights must make claims about the attributes human
beings share universally, and yet the variety of human culture and experience persistently
undermines such universal claims. One of the most prominent and widely-accepted
responses to this philosophical dilemma has been to advocate the virtue of "tolerance" for
diverse others. Subsequent debates over human rights and toleration of difference
crystallize into two central questions: what are the minimum necessary conditions for a
dignified human life and how can we negotiate conflicting claims about what these
conditions are?

My project approaches these questions through the concept of solidarity--an
ethical relation that mediates between the individual and the community, involving some
form of unity. I give an account of the practice of "ethical solidarity" as a virtuous
interpersonal relation toward others, one in which each individual is predisposed to act in
support of other individuals' human flourishing. On my view, the traditional
philosophical focus in human rights discourse on creating just institutions is insufficient
to secure the minimum necessary conditions for flourishing human lives for all. Because
social and cultural structures of power only sanction and support a narrow understanding
of "normal" lives, those whose lives fall outside the norm are subject to daily acts of
denigration, discrimination, alienation, and both psychic and physical violence.

Therefore, an account is needed of the interpersonal interactions, responsibilities, and
ethical relations that support human dignity and flourishing.
Rather than embracing mere tolerance of human difference, the minimum
necessary conditions for a flourishing human life are best achieved through the practice
of ethical solidarity. I conclude by proposing a utopian notion of "queer humanism" that
opposes narrow norms through the concrete multiplication of our imaginative conception
of "the human." "The human" is a telos which is never fully defined or realized; it is
articulated within imaginative social practice, not prior to social and political practice.

Table of Contents

CONTENTS Chapter 1. BEING HUMAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Martha Nussbaum on Human Flourishing and the Capabilities Approach Institutions, Individuals, and the Responsibility for Promoting Human Capabilities Judith Butler on Self- and Social Transformation and the Construction of "Livable Lives" The Role of Ethical Solidarity Ethical Solidarity as the Means to Self- and Social Transformation 2. ETHICAL SOLIDARITY AND PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION . . . . 45 Taking Responsibility for One's (Invisible/Unconscious) Privileges Responsibilities and Individual versus Collective Human Flourishing Transforming Identifications and Values Standpoint Epistemology and the Limits of Self-Knowledge Transforming Horizons and the Map of Power Becoming "Traitorous" to Privilege Cultivating a "Traitorous" Character through "World"-Traveling 3. SOLIDARITY AS SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Solidarity and Normativity Un/Intelligibility Relative to Social "Worlds" Transforming the Social through Multiple and Malleable "Worlds" Escaping Identity Politics Coalition versus Solidarity Displacing "Freedom" and "Tolerance" 4. HUMAN SOLIDARITY AND QUEER HUMANISM . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 Negotiating Disagreements: The Politics of Ethical Solidarity Disagreements within Communities of Shared Values Disagreements over Fundamental Values: Possibilities for Human Solidarity The Impact of the Social Imagination of "The Human" on Possibilities for Flourishing Queer Humanism: In Defense of "The Human" Queer Humanism: Retaining "The Human" Queer Humanism: Leveraging "Queer" The Impact of the Imaginative Conception of the Human on Political Theory Concrete Multiplicity versus Abstract Universalism Utopian Visions as "Yoga for the Imagination" BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179

About this thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files