ANSO Tuesday Seminars
Miia Halme-Tuomisaari

Looping for Human Rights: an Ethnographic Theory of Expansion

Miia Halme-Tuomisaari, Lund University
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Room S12, Maison de la paix, Geneva Graduate Institute

The ANSO Tuesday Seminar series is organized by the Anthropology and Sociology department at the Institute to discuss global questions from ethnographically-informed perspectives.

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How does a societal concern turn into an uncontested human rights issue? Using a pioneering approach, this book will engage with this question by developing an ethnographic theory of expansion. In everyday parlance, human rights are cast as tools for addressing social injustices. Yet not all injustices acquire prominence as recognized human rights issues in international monitoring, state policies, legislation, and NGO lobbying: while LGBTI+ rights have become mainstream, the rights of the elderly, for example, have remained marginalized. Based on prolonged, multi-sited research of UN human rights monitoring practices, state reporting, NGO activism and previously unstudied primary data at UN archives, the monograph will theorize the ‘looping’ practices through which human rights insiders maneuver within the opaque transparency of human rights bureaucracies to expand the scope of what becomes accepted under the human rights umbrella. Simultaneously, the book explores the kinds of material and knowledge capital influence requires. Building upon recent anthropological work on bureaucracy, expertise, and documents, it will make a significant contribution to human rights studies and the study of global collaboration, international organizations, and soft law. Finally, it reflects upon global power dynamics: has the conceptual expansion of human rights resulted in an unambiguous realization of their egalitarian potential or instead become a mechanism for reincarnating privilege?


About the Speaker

Miia Halme-Tuomisaari is Associate Professor of Human Rights Studies at Lund University. Her key publications include Human Rights in Action: Learning Expert Knowledge (Brill, 2010) and Revisiting the Origins of Human Rights (co-edited with Pamela Slotte, CUP, 2015). She has published numerous articles and chapters on the UN Human Rights Committee and UN treaty bodies, including “Guardian Utopia” (Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 2020), “Methodologically Blonde at the UN in a Tactical Quest for Inclusion” (Social Anthropology /Anthropologie Sociale, 2018), and “Embodied Universalism” (in Palaces of Hope, CUP, 2017). In addition to the UN Human Rights Committee, her fieldwork has included the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NGO networks, as well as a Nordic human rights expert network. She has further conducted archival research on the International League for the Rights of Man. She is currently finalizing a monograph on the UN Human Rights Committee. In 2023-2024 she is on research sabbatical with funding from the from Riksbankens Jubiliumsfonds to work on a book manuscript on human rights expansion.


Link to BOOK PROJECT that will be discussed during the seminar