Steve Stern

Position title: Senior Fellow (2015-2017)

History, UW-Madison


Between Human Rights and Social Justice: Latin America and the World in Film and History

How did human rights become a dominant value of our times? Did its rise eclipse an earlier politics of social justice? This project argues that a view from Latin America transforms the world history narratives we often deploy to address such questions. Since the 1960s, Latin Americans engaged in the conflictive makings of a social justice imperative and a human rights imperative, neither reducible to the other. Yet because states and societies fell so short, Latin Americans also resorted to creative on-the-ground adaptations, often migration and urban mobilization, to improve life chances while pressuring for state responsiveness. This research focuses on film as an especially powerful way to trace the process culturally. Latin America’s making of a doubled rights imperative—human rights and social justice, notwithstanding tensions between them—dramatically rewrites the global history of values in our times.

Steve J. Stern is the Alberto Flores Galindo and Hilldale Professor of History at UW-Madison. He researches Latin American history, and recently published The Human Rights Paradox: Universality and Its Discontents (2014), co-edited with Scott Straus. Stern’s research demonstrates the inventiveness of Latin American responses to unequal structures of power, with sometimes surprising impact on world history. Honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Bolton-Johnson Prize for best book in Latin American history, for Battling for Hearts and Minds: Memory Struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988; and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Social Science Research Council. Stern is a founding editor, with Scott Straus, of the “Critical Human Rights” series at the UW Press, and has won a UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award. He is at work on a project entitled “Between Human Rights and Social Justice: Latin America and the World in Film and History.”