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Ruth Kelly



Ruth Kelly is a lecturer in human rights, based at the Centre for Applied Human Rights.

Her research is on cultural politics, human rights and social justice – looking at how inventive storytelling and other familiar cultural practices can help activists reimagine justice and negotiate citizenship. Since 2016 she has been working with artists and activists from Bangladesh and Uganda to explore the links between visual and performance art, activism, and the political imagination. She has also supported programmes of peer-learning for human rights leaders and activists at risk, at York and at Oxford.

Before taking up her post at York in 2022, Ruth held a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford, based at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, and a lectureship at the University of Durham, based in the School of Government and International Affairs. Ruth holds a PhD from the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of York, as well as an LLM from the University of Cambridge, and an LLB from Trinity College, Dublin.

Ruth is currently Chair of the Electoral Reform Society (UK). She has previously worked with ActionAid, Oxfam, UNDP and the European Commission, and held a fellowship at Yale University.



Ruth’s current research includes the development of a monograph on storytelling, human rights and the political imagination. Drawing on storytelling traditions from Ireland and Uganda, this shows how stories have been used and can be used to negotiate social and political change. It discusses the hero stories that are often dominant in human rights practice; as well as shapeshifter stories and solidarity; and origin stories, agency and citizenship. This research draws on insights from participatory arts-based research with activists and artists - for example, using the story of Red Riding Hood as a springboard to explore parallels and disjunctures between Irish and Ugandan storytelling traditions and perspectives on women's rights and sexuality. As part of this work, she is learning from activists about the ideas and habits that shape, motivate, and sometimes limit their work.

Ruth is now developing a new project looking at citizenship practices, cultural politics, and utopian traditions in Bangladesh, Ireland and Uganda. This project will reflect on how different cultural traditions are implicated in imagining and performing postcolonial nations, and how these and other cultural resources are engaged in human rights and feminist activism.

She also has longstanding interests in religious practice and human rights, the politics of language, and the political cultures of human rights and development work.


Selected publications

R Kelly, 'Re-membering Red Riding Hood: situated solidarities between Ireland and Uganda' (2022) Feminist Theory. January 2022. doi:10.1177/14647001211043996

R Kelly, 'Translating rights and articulating alternatives: rights-based approaches in ActionAid’s work on unpaid care' (2019) 23 International Journal of Human Rights 862

E Flower and R Kelly, 'Researching like an artist: disrupting participatory arts-based methods in Uganda and Bangladesh' in P Cooke and I Souria-Turner (eds), Participatory arts in international development (Routledge 2019)


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Contact details

Ruth Kelly
Centre for Applied Human Rights
6 Innovation Close
YO26 5ZF