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.
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 the whole article in Anthropology News (removed, no longer available)
The October 06 issue of Anthropology News asks the question
Do Anthropologists Have an Ethical Obligation to Promote Human Rights? (removed)
Links updated 12.5.2018