Oral Presentation Session - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Human rights
Secondary Theme: Inequality
Human rights are increasingly described as being in crisis. Some scholars argue that the system of human rights has become formalized and professionalized and is therefore too remote from those who need its protection. Others insist that it is a Western ideology that has failed to escape its colonial past. Some authoritarian governments have threatened or closed down human rights organizations in their countries. The enthusiasm for globalization and a universal order of justice of the 1990s was transformed by the 2010s, in part by the growing inequality generated by economic globalization, including the increasing wealth and cosmopolitanism of the few and the poverty and isolation of the many. In place of a celebrated globalism there is now a rising populist tide that puts nation, religion, and race first—and that poses new kinds of threats to human rights.
Yet, ethnographic examinations of sites of human rights activism indicate that this is a resilient ideology. The appeal of human rights has always resided in the ideals of justice, fairness, and equality that they represent. These remain appealing ideas globally, even if the institutions designed to promote and enforce human rights are increasingly unable to do so. This panel focuses on the processes by which human rights travel, are translated in a variety of global and local contexts, and are transformed in the process. It reveals the capacity of human rights ideas to resist authoritarian rule and adapt to a range of local cultural contexts. The cultural dimension of this process has been called vernacularization. This term refers to the way an idea or norm is redefined and represented in a way that is more or less compatible with the existing social world. This does not mean its meaning is changed entirely (although it may be altered), but rather to the altered mode of presentation. As societies change, so do the human rights ideas and practices that communities mobilize in their search for justice. The papers in this panel illustrate a range of processes of human rights travel and transformation, revealing the resilience and endurance of this ideology.