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09/04/06

Do anthropologists have anything relevant to say about human rights?

Anthropology News April focuses on the topic anthropology and human rights. Both anthropologists and non-anthropologists have been asked to answer the question: Do anthropologists have anything useful or relevant to say about human rights?

In Gerald F Hyman's view (Director, USAID Office of Democracy and Governance), anthropologists contribute little to the development of human rights themselves or a human rights regime because anthropologists are skeptical of normative claims.

Sheila Dauer from amnesty international makes a similar point, criticizing the idea that human rights are a Western idea and than introducing them might even be a neocolonial act:

When anthropologists support the idea that the changes the changes people are working for on the ground that are based on human rights standards are “Western” or “neocolonial,” they are using the same argument used by governments and others in power to repress less powerful sectors of society—ethnic and racial minorities, women and other groups. Within the human rights movement, conceptualizing human rights standards as universal is now thought of as bringing local meanings into dialogue with human rights standards to mutually reinterpret them and to find ways they can apply locally—a kind of cultural negotiation.

(related see Democracy Isn't 'Western' by Amartya Sen that also was debated on Savage Minds)

Victoria Sanford calls for "activist scholarship":

It is not uncommon within the academy for lived experience to be dismissed as unscientific or not relevant to real, objective scholarship. This is completely backwards because it is the academy that needs to be relevant to the reality of lived experience.

Advocacy and activism do not diminish one’s scholarly research. On the contrary, activist scholarship reminds us that all research is inherently political—even, and perhaps especially, that scholarship presented under the guise of “objectivity” is often little more than a veiled defense of the status quo. Anthropologists can do better than that. We can and should use our expertise to support rights claims in the communities where we work.

She has a nice homepage with lots of pictures and several articles about her conflict and peace research in Guatemala and Colombia.

Veena Das is sceptical. Institutional transformations in the universities in the US and elsewhere are threatening the kind of free inquiry on which critical understanding rests:

I see a far greater threat to anthropology’s capabilities for engaging politically difficult questions based upon good evidence from everyday practices that govern research in universities than from direct censorship.

>> read thw whole article in Anthropology News

UPDATE (9.10.06):
The October 06 issue of Anthropology News asks the question Do Anthropologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Promote Human Rights?

SEE ALSO:

Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights Committee for Human Rights by the American Anthropological Association

"We have a huge responsibility to give back to the places we study from"

Annelise Riles: Anthropology, Human Rights, and Legal Knowledge: Culture in the Iron Cage

Sally Engle Merry: Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (And Anthropology Along the Way)

3 comments

Comment from: heartfortibet [Visitor]
heartfortibet

This comment seems very relevant:

It is not uncommon within the academy for lived experience to be dismissed as unscientific or not relevant to real, objective scholarship. This is completely backwards because it is the academy that needs to be relevant to the reality of lived experience.

So true! There are so many social anthropologists that appear to be against development of indigenous cultures-this is certainly the case with Tibetan culture. Any anthropologist that is worth his salt will allow for cultures to change and embrace these changes. Let the natives decide. Some of the Free Tibet Campaigners may think they speak for the people of Tibet. How will they ever know if they just keep on ranting from the sidelines?

very very sad!

2009-12-11 @ 11:27
Comment from: alok chantia [Visitor]
alok chantia

Anthropology and human rights is not two words because culture is nothing but protection of human rights of an individual or a group. when we study cultural relativism, pluralism and multuculturalism , actually we study the process of co-existence and distribution of resources equally among people. So a lot is for anthropologists to do with human rights. In my opinion, culture was made i for protection of an individual from natural barriers, and when an individual finds any difficulty within his culture, he/she may go in his/her polical organization(in india it is known as panchayat) to get relief to lead as dignified life. so we cants ignore the role of anthropologist in the field of human rights

2010-04-11 @ 09:18
alokchantia, asstt prof (Anthropology) India

Anthropology and human rights is not two words because culture is nothing but protection of human rights of an individual or a group. when we study cultural relativism, pluralism and multuculturalism , actually we study the process of co-existence and distribution of resources equally among people. So a lot is for anthropologists to do with human rights. In my opinion, culture was made i for protection of an individual from natural barriers, and when an individual finds any difficulty within his culture, he/she may go in his/her polical organization(in india it is known as panchayat) to get relief to lead as dignified life. so we cants ignore the role of anthropologist in the field of human rights. An anthropologist doesnot take human rights as a western concept, he/she takes it as cultural concept and tries to know going on cultural process and institution in a group which makes an armour to protect its people. so culture is known as human rights in the Nation state concept in the era of modernization and globalization too.

2010-04-11 @ 09:23

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