Dr. José-Manuel Barreto

Curriculum Vitae

José-Manuel Barreto studied Law at the Externado University of Colombia, Bogotá, and holds a BA in Philosophy from the National University of Colombia, Bogotá, as well as a MA in Human Rights from the ICS, University of London. In 2009, he received his PhD in Law for the thesis “The Decolonial Turn and Sympathy: A Critique of the Eurocentric and Rationalist Theory of Human Rights” at Birkbeck College, University of London. From 1991 until 1999, he worked as a Lawyer-Researcher for the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Bogotá. Moreover, José-Manuel Barreto worked at the University of the Andes, Bogotá, where he taught Research Methods in 1994 and History of Political Ideas from 1997 until 1999 as a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, before he became a Researcher at the Centre for Socio-Legal Research in 1999. From 2011 until 2013, he was a Research Fellow at the Unit for Global Justice at the Department for Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, before he became a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the program “Rechtskulturen” at the “Forum Transregionale Studien” at Humboldt-University, Berlin, in 2013. From October 2014 to September 2015, Dr. Barreto was fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.

Research Project

Art, Emotions and the Human Rights Culture: Sentimental Education and the work of Bill Viola, Sebastião Salgado and Fernando Botero

This project is guided by the question about the ways in which art can be related to the task of strengthening the human rights culture. It builds on insights provided by Richard Rorty on sentimental education as a path towards moral progress. Rorty’s re-contextualisation of human rights within the critique of the philosophical project of modernity understands rights and morality in terms of human suffering, and thematizes the concept of a ‘global moral sentiment’. For Rorty the question about the cultural struggle for human rights in times of globalisation finds one of its answers in the sensibilisation of the epoch. The characteristic individual of the human rights ethos would be the one who is sensitive to the suffering of strangers, and able to identify oneself with them. Thus, the actualisation or strengthening of the human rights culture can be pursued by a long-term process aimed at advancing the sentimental education of individuals and societies in the virtue of sympathy -a ‘global moral warming’ of the political culture of our times. This process is as individual as collective and, driven by imagination, telling-stories and art, is a dynamic of ‘aesthetic enhancement’ and ‘aesthetic self-creation’. Within this theoretical framework, this project aims at exploring the connection between art, emotions and the human rights culture by analysing the work of three contemporary artists: the video-artist Bill Viola, the photographer Sebastião Salgado, and the painter Fernando Botero.

In the context of contemporary art marked by conceptualism, the work of Bill Viola signals towards the realm of emotions. Bill Viola’s The Passions addresses the capacity of the viewers to feel, and look for eliciting some sort of emotional response. A group of women and men look at a presence that provokes intense emotions. Are they viewing a body in the street? The images of September 11? What matters is that the viewer can empathize with the emotions of the participants, and that the expression of a vicarious emotion means a reawakening of a dormant but vital moral feeling.

Sebastião Salgado‘s photographs of the gold mine at Serra Pelada put into evidence contemporary slavery in the South. The histories that have been silenced by the master narrative become relevant by virtue of Salgado’s photo-essays. They request a response in the terrain of the sentient or the affective, and not merely a rational answer. His photography constructs an 'ethics of vision’ in which sentiments become moral emotions. For Parvati Nair, these photographs also create some degree of 'political stirring’, and what emerges from Salgado’s images is a 'planetary responsibility’, 'a global vision that implicates viewers... in a web of humanity framed in the act of social surviving’.

Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib is a series of 86 paintings and drawings inspired by photographs showing instances of torture perpetrated in 2004 by US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Incarcerated in small cells, tied and blindfolded, the body of the tortured men incarnates vulnerability and humanity. As Eduardo Mendieta puts it, Botero has rescued the abuse perpetrated at Abu Ghraib for history and for the ethics that can inhabit painting. For Arthur Danto, Botero’s Abu Ghraib makes evident that the power of painting has to do with emotions -feelings like grief and sympathy. In the moral optics that they make possible, Botero’s paintings appeal to the capacity of the viewers to sympathise with the victims of imperialism in Iraq and the Third World -with the victims of inveterate colonial violence and torture.

Selected Publications

  • Human Rights and Emotions, London: Routledge, forthcoming 2015.
  • Human Rights from a Third-World Perspective: Critique, History and International Law (ed.), Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.
  • Human Rights and Emotions from the Perspective of the Colonised: Anthropofagi, Legal Surrealism and Subaltern Studies, in: Revista de Estudos Constitucionais, Hemeneutica e Teoria do Direito (2013), 5/2, 106-115.
  • Ethics of Emotions as Ethics of Human Rights. A Jurisprudence of Sympathy in Adorno, Horkheimer and Rorty, in: Costas Douzinas & Colin Perrin (eds.): Critical Legal Theory, London: Routledge 2011.
  • Rorty and Human Rights: Contingency, Emotions and How to Defend Human Rights Telling Stories, Utrecht Law Review (2011), 7/2, 93-112.
  • On Rights, Guarantees and Duties (with L. Sarmiento), Bogotá: Colombian Commission of Jurists, 1998.