“Human Rights and the Idea of Choice” Public Lecture by Sophia Rosenfeld (University of Pennsylvania) – 18 May 2018
In her lecture Professor Rosenfeld considered the importance of the idea of choice for the development of the modern human rights movement. The notion of freedom entailing the proliferation of both opportunities for choice-making and choices themselves is widely understood to be central to the rise of consumer culture in the West. This understanding of freedom-as-choice should, however, equally be recognized as critical to conceptions of the self that increasingly shaped human rights ideology from the eighteenth century onward. Rosenfeld explored how this came to be by focusing less on key philosophical texts than on the rise of new, quotidian social practices associated with choosing, including both voting (in which one is asked to pick representatives) and couple-based social dancing (in which one is asked to pick potential romantic or marriage partners), that flourished in the wake of the age of revolutions.
Sophia Rosenfeld is Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches European intellectual and cultural history with a special emphasis on the Enlightenment, the trans-Atlantic Age of Revolutions, and the legacy of the eighteenth century for modern democracy. She is the author of A Revolution in Language: The Problem of Signs in Late Eighteenth-Century France (Stanford, 2001) and also of Common Sense: A Political History (Harvard, 2011), which won several prizes. She is now writing two new books: one on how the idea and practice of choice-making became so central to modern conceptions of freedom, and the other on truth and democracy in historical perspective.