ANSO118 | Autumn | 6 ECTS

Human Rights and the Politics of Culture

Human rights are one of the most profound legacies of the 20th century, an attempt by politicians, policy makers, scholars, and humanitarians to erect obstacles against future state violence and other crimes against humanity. Over time, human rights have become a global phenomenon with unexpected outcomes and effects. Though developed by nations and transnational in scope, human rights ideas have been adapted and reworked in local contexts worldwide, becoming the object of as well as a resource for popular struggle, state policymaking, and transnational movements. All of this makes human rights a perfect object of anthropological inquiry: human rights are at once a global force and a set of resources that find distinct expressions in a variety of local settings. Another striking feature within the contemporary efflorescence of rights discourse in the increasing deployment of a rhetoric of 'culture'. This course examines 'culture' as an object of rights discourses, as well as examining the local and global conditions which compel and constrain such claims and the contexts in which they are articulated. But it also seeks to explore the extent to which the concept of 'culture' could be useful as an analytical tool to make sense of claims-making in the global context. After reviewing the historical origins and expansion of human rights thinking, we will reflect on the impacts this has had on national formations, local contexts and individual subjectivities. We will explore the various ways in which anthropologists have studied human rights and their specific contribution to this interdisciplinary field of study. Students will become familiar with classic ethnographies of human rights struggles in local contexts as well as more recent ones that examine the global institutions and transnational networks via which human rights are made real in the world.