Interlocking blocks of color with "Human Rights Day" written on top

A Human Rights Day reading list

Books on video activism, design justice, and free speech

Human Rights Day takes place on December 10 every year, commemorating the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The day serves as an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in our world and express a need for global solidarity. We’re pleased to feature a selection of books that reflect on a range of human rights concerns: rights of freedom of speech, rights of housing, and rights of access to broadband, among others. Read more about these books and others from the Press below.

Seeing Human Rights: Video Activism as a Proxy Profession by Sandra Ristovska

Open Access edition available, thanks to generous funding from Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

"Cover for Seeing Human Rights"

Visual imagery is at the heart of humanitarian and human rights activism, and video has become a key tool in these efforts. The Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, the Green Movement in Iran, and Black Lives Matter in the United States have all used video to expose injustice. In Seeing Human Rights, Sandra Ristovska examines how human rights organizations are seeking to professionalize video activism through video production, verification standards, and training. The result, she argues, is a proxy profession that uses human rights videos to tap into journalism, the law, and political advocacy.

“An engrossing examination of human rights’ media politics that will make a valuable contribution to journalism studies, critical legal and human rights scholarship, and media studies of distant suffering.” —International Journal of Communication

Read an excerpt from the book in the MIT Press Reader: Of Trauma, Testimony, and the Power of Human Rights Voices

Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need by Sasha Costanza-Chock

Open Access edition available, thanks to generous funding from Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

"Cover for Design Justice"

What is the relationship between design, power, and social justice? “Design justice” is an approach to design that is led by marginalized communities and that aims explicitly to challenge, rather than reproduce, structural inequalities. It has emerged from a growing community of designers in various fields who work closely with social movements and community-based organizations around the world. This book explores the theory and practice of design justice, demonstrates how universalist design principles and practices erase certain groups of people—specifically, those who are intersectionally disadvantaged or multiply burdened under the matrix of domination (white supremacist heteropatriarchy, ableism, capitalism, and settler colonialism)—and invites readers to “build a better world, a world where many worlds fit; linked worlds of collective liberation and ecological sustainability.”

“Books like [Design Justice] offer insight into the history of disability and ideas for building on the ADA’s foundation of basic protections to create a more just world for the variety of humans who inhabit it.” —The Washington Post

Human Rights in the Age of Platforms edited by Rikke Frank Jørgensen

Open Access edition available, thanks to generous funding from Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

"Cover for Human Rights in the Age of Platforms"

Today such companies as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter play an increasingly important role in how users form and express opinions, encounter information, debate, disagree, mobilize, and maintain their privacy. What are the human rights implications of an online domain managed by privately owned platforms? According to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the UN Human Right Council in 2011, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to carry out human rights due diligence. But this goal is dependent on the willingness of states to encode such norms into business regulations and of companies to comply. In this volume, contributors from across law and internet and media studies examine the state of human rights in today’s platform society.

Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity by Christopher Ali

"Cover for Farm Fresh Broadband"

As much of daily life migrates online, broadband—high-speed internet connectivity—has become a necessity. The widespread lack of broadband in rural America has created a stark urban–rural digital divide. In Farm Fresh Broadband, Christopher Ali analyzes the promise and the failure of national rural broadband policy in the United States and proposes a new national broadband plan. He examines how broadband policies are enacted and implemented, explores business models for broadband providers, surveys the technologies of rural broadband, and offers case studies of broadband use in the rural Midwest.

“This is the definitive book on how the United States has failed to meet the communication needs of rural communities. Combining meticulous research with razor-sharp analysis, Ali opens a path to overturning this historic blunder.” —Vincent Mosco, author of The Smart City in a Digital World

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship by Cherian George and Sonny Liew

"Cover image for Red Lines"

Why do the powerful feel so threatened by political cartoons? Cartoons don’t tell secrets or move markets. Yet, as Cherian George and Sonny Liew show us in Red Lines, cartoonists have been harassed, trolled, sued, fired, jailed, attacked, and assassinated for their insolence. The robustness of political cartooning—one of the most elemental forms of political speech—says something about the health of democracy. In a lively graphic narrative—illustrated by Liew, himself a prize-winning cartoonist—Red Lines crisscrosses the globe to feel the pulse of a vocation under attack.

“Engaging and accessible.” —Cartoon Movement

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader: An Illustrated Guide to Post-Orwellian Censorship

The Most Human Right: Why Free Speech Is Everything by Eric Heinze

What are human rights? Are they laid out definitively in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the US Bill of Rights? Are they items on a checklist—dignity, justice, progress, standard of living, health care, housing? In The Most Human Right, Eric Heinze explains why global human rights systems have failed. International organizations constantly report on how governments manage human goods, such as fair trials, humane conditions of detention, healthcare, or housing. But to appease autocratic regimes, experts have ignored the primacy of free speech. Heinze argues that goods become rights only when citizens can claim them publicly and fearlessly: free speech is the fundamental right, without which the very concept of a “right” makes no sense.

Just Housing: The Moral Foundations of American Housing Policy by Casey J. Dawkins

Open Access edition available.  

"Cover for Just Housing"

In response to the twin crises of homelessness and housing insecurity, an emerging “housing justice” coalition argues that America’s apparent inability to provide decent housing for all is a moral failing. Yet if housing is a right, as housing justice advocates contend, what is the content of that right? In a wide-ranging examination of these issues, Casey Dawkins chronicles the concept of housing justice, investigates the moral foundations of the US housing reform tradition, and proposes a new conception of housing justice that is grounded in moral principles that appeal to the home’s special connection to American life.

“Dawkins’s Just Housing is the definitive volume on the ethical bases and imperatives of an American ‘right to home.’ Thoroughly researched, beautifully written. A must-read for anyone interested in justice.” —Sonia Hirt, College of Environment + Design, University of Georgia

They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis by James Gustave Speth

"Cover for They Knew"

In 2015, a group of twenty-one young people sued the federal government in Juliana v. United States for violating their constitutional rights by promoting climate catastrophe and thereby depriving them of life, liberty, and property without due process and equal protection of law. They Knew offers evidence supporting the children’s claims, presenting a devastating and compelling account of the federal government’s role in bringing about today’s climate crisis. James Gustave Speth, tapped by the plaintiffs as one of twenty-one preeminent experts in their climate case, analyzes how administrations from Carter to Trump—despite having information about the impending climate crisis and the connection to fossil fuels—continued aggressive support of a fossil fuel based energy system. They Knew (an updated version of the Expert Report Speth prepared for the lawsuit) presents the most definitive indictment yet of the US government’s role in the climate crisis.

“A rousing condemnation of a system bent on short-term gain against long-term health.” Kirkus Reviews