ARC Seminar: Lucia Sorbera

Thursday, October 13, 2022

4:00 pm — 5:30 pm

Hybrid (see description for details)

Open to the Public

A Politics of Radical Care: Writing Women into the History of the Egyptian Human Rights Movement

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Lucia Sorbera

Human Rights are a key theme in international history and international law, with the Arab world being studied mostly in relation to the trajectories that led the postcolonial states to ratify the major HR international conventions, and to the global growth of the human rights movements in the 1980s and the 1990s. In the mainstream literature, Arab women are either absent or represented as violated and vulnerable subjects, individuals in need of protection and “international solidarity”. Even the history of the human rights movements across the Arab world is written along male-centred genealogies, and women’s voices tend to be silenced.

In this paper I argue for the importance of writing a women’s history of the human rights movement in Egypt, showing that woman political activists were not only closely working with men to build the movement, but they were also bringing a specific feminist theoretical contribution to it. My thesis is that feminist activists brought into the human rights movement an “ethics of care”, a concept that is at the core of feminist political philosophy since the early twentieth century, becoming more explicitly formulated in the 1980s. Building on a broad corpus of political biographies of Egyptian women human rights activists that I have gathered and curated over the past ten years, and combining their empirical analysis with the insights coming from critical, decolonial and First Nations feminist philosophers, I argue that the study of women’s political activism within the human rights movement in Egypt, from the 1980s until today allows deepening our transcultural understanding of the feminist ethics and politics of care, and in so doing, to take part in the process of not simply being concerned about the world but caring about it, and thus acting to change things.

Lucia Sorbera is Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Department of Arabic Language and Cultures at the University of Sydney, which is built on land stolen from the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. She studies the colonial and post-colonial history of the Arab World and Africa, with a focus on women and gender. Dr. Sorbera has published widely in history of Egyptian feminism, women’s political activism, and cultural productions in the Arab world. She is currently writing a monograph for UC Press, tentatively titled Biography of a Revolution. Feminist Lives in Egypt, and she recently curated with Aymon Kreil and Serena Tolino the volume Sex and Desire in Muslim Cultures. Beyond Norms and Transgression from the Abbasids to the Present. Day (I.B. Tauris, 2021). Her recent works have also appeared in The Routledge Handbook of Middle East Politics (2020), Genre et Histoire (2021), Alphaville. Journal of Film and Screen Media (2019), Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs and Applied Contemporary Thought (2016), Post-Colonial Studies (2014); and in Genesis. The Journal of the Italian Society of Women’s Historians (2013). Dr. Sorbera serves on the editorial boards of the book series on Women and Gender History published by the Italian Society of Feminist Historians and Viella, and is a co-editor of Third Space, for the Journal of Middle East Women Studies. In Australia, where she lives, she is among the founding members of the WoMENAustralia network, a research network of women scholars working on the Middle East and North Africa, and a member of the Australian Academics for Refugees and Academics for Palestine networks. 

Her most recent awards are the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellowship in the Laureate Program in International History at the University of Sydney 2017, the Fernand Braudel Senior Fellowship at the European University Institute (2021), and the Distinguished Visiting Scholarhip at the Advanced Research Collaborative, CUNY Graduate Center (2022).

This is a hybrid event. Participants may choose to attend in person at the Graduate Center, room 5318, or online via Zoom. Please register here to receive Zoom connection details.