Banned Books Week 2023: An Interview with Robin Kirk

Robin Kirk

This interview was conducted over email with Robin Kirk, Author/Co-Director of the Duke Human Rights Center@FHI/Professor of the Practice in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, by Sarah Holehouse, a second-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. 

How do the issues of banned books and censorship intersect with human rights?

Human rights can be divided into derogable rights—rights than can be limited for specific reasons – and non-derogable rights, which can never be limited. An example of a non-derogable right is the right not to be tortured. But freedom of expression, which covers access to all types of media, can be limited if the material in question is considered “harmful content or ideas.”

So who gets to define harmful? I wrote about this in a recent newsletter. There’s little dispute that materials that instruct on murder, mayhem, or torture, among other violent acts, should be restricted—but not outright banned. Why? Scholars or others, for example, would want access to this material to study where the material comes from or the historical moment in which it appeared—or who created it and for what purpose.  Read more.