Accessibility statement

Dr Ruth Kelly



Ruth Kelly is a lecturer in human rights, based at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. She is also on the board of Elect Her - a multi-partisan organisation working to motivate, support and equip women in all their diversity to stand for political office in Britain. 

Ruth’s 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. During that time she has also supported programmes of peer-learning for human rights leaders and activists at risk.

Before taking up her post at York in 2022, Ruth held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Oxford, supporting the Symposium on Strength and Solidarity for Human Rights. She has also held a fellowship at Yale University and a lectureship in Politics at the University of Durham. She has a background in law and politics, with a PhD in Politics from York, an LLM from Cambridge and an LLB from Trinity College, Dublin.

She has previously served as Chair of the Electoral Reform Society, and worked with ActionAid, Oxfam, UNDP and the European Commission.



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, Mexico and Uganda. This project will reflect on how different cultural traditions are implicated in imagining and performing the nation, and how these and other cultural resources are engaged in human rights and feminist activism. She is particularly interested in how human rights activists sustain their activism over time.

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

Ruth is interested in supervising doctoral projects in any of these areas and has a particular interest in working with candidates with previous experience of working in the human rights, social justice and international development sectors.



Selected publications


Contact details

Dr Ruth Kelly
Centre for Applied Human Rights
University of York
YO10 5DD

Feedback and Guidance hours this semester:  Tuesdays 16:00-17:00 and Wednesdays 12:00-13:00 (book an online appointment)