Human rights and dementia: a 'Socratic dialogue'

Nicholas Jenkins, Toby Williamson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In recent years there has been growing interest in a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to dementia derived from other areas of disability rights activism. Whilst such a model raises important points of principle regarding, for example, the participation of people living with dementia, several cautionary arguments have been raised, including those inspired by post theories (e.g. poststructuralism, posthumanism, postmodernism). Presented in the form of a Socratic Dialogue between two authors with differing perspectives on the question of human rights and dementia, this chapter debates the development of human rights and their implications for the future of dementia studies. Speaking as an advocate of human rights-based approaches in dementia, Williamson argues that the language of rights can helpfully reframe our understandings of dementia and those affected by it, leading to enhanced legal status and better treatment, while recognising the challenges of putting an HRBA into practice. Williamson supports this with specific examples such as the creation of the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) and the establishment of dementia friendly communities. Speaking from a more posthumanist, multi-species perspective, Jenkins considers the historic roots of human rights in enlightenment philosophy, their connections to human exceptionalism and bounded individualism. Drawing on the work of critical scholars, including Donna Haraway and Karen Barad, Jenkins argues for what he sees as a more radical ontological, ethical and epistemological project; one which recognises the contribution that HRBA have made, but which seeks to go beyond liberal humanist understandings of rights. The dialogue concludes with each author exploring how their contrasting perspectives can help stimulate new questions, agendas and avenues for social change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Critical History of Dementia Studies
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Nov 2022


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