2016 Virtual Edition: Human Rights

Guest Editors: Joshua Clark and Miia Halme-Tuomisaari


Ceiling by Miquel Barceló.Anthropology, Human Rights, and Three (Miniature) Generations
Miia Halme-Tuomisaari and Joshua Clark

The reason for focusing this Virtual Edition upon human rights is simple: The year 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the UN’s two main human rights covenants – the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This occasion offers an auspicious moment in which to reflect upon what have been the key threads in anthropologists’ approaches to human rights over the past decades. Using nine articles published in PoLAR since 1995, we discuss the trajectory of the anthropology of human rights as comprised of three miniature ‘generations’, and offer some thoughts on where the sub-field might be heading. [Read Introduction]

Featured Articles and Postscripts

macedoniaTransnational Influences on National Conflict: The Macedonian Question
Loring M. Danforth in Volume 18 Issue 1. May 1995

This paper examines how participants of the 1990 meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) dealt with the issue of the human rights of the Macedonian minority of northern Greece. At the meeting, a transnational Macedonian delegation was able to shift the balance of power in its favor by appealing to the pluralist definitions of national identity and human rights that prevail in the context of international organizations like the CSCE.

featured_exhib_film_pacific_thetribunalLegal Vernacularization and Ka Ho’okolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, The People’s International Tribunal, Hawai’i 1993
Sally Engle Merry in Volume 19 Issue 1. May 1996

This paper discusses the mobilization of law by various groups within the Hawaiian Movement and acknowledges a widespread pattern. Rather than viewing the emerging regime of global human rights as the imposition of Western cultural forms and legalities, we need to see it as an open text, susceptible to appropriation and redefinition by groups who are also players in the global legal arena. [Read Merry’s Postscript]

5755068592_ff1939c4cfHuman Rights, Gender, and Ethnicity: Legal Claims and Anthropological Challenges in Mexico
Teresa Sierra in Volume 24 Issue 2. November 2001

This paper draws on the author’s collaborations with human rights and indigenous organizations in constructing a proposal for constitutional reform regarding indigenous rights in Puebla, Mexico. It addresses two issues that are at the center of debates: 1) the contradiction between human and indigenous rights and 2) the paradox posed by the demands of indigenous women regarding oppressive traditional customs.

chrCulture and Rights: Beyond Relativism?
Miia Halme-Tuomisaari in Volume 28 Issue 2. November 2005

Human rights and anthropology were once distant and even hostile to each other, resulting in the (in)famous statement on the proposed Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. A gap between anthropological insights and mainstream human rights writings persists. Why is this so? This review addresses the question through an analysis of three contributions to the anthropology of human rights. [Read Halme-Tuomisaari’s Postscript]

oventic-olszanowski-1-of-1-12.jpgDangerous Discourses: Human Rights and Multiculturalism in Neoliberal Mexico
Shannon Speed in Volume 28 Issue 1. May 2005

This essay cautions that human rights and multiculturalism, particularly as state discourses, may manifest themselves in regressive politics, disempowerment, and regulation. However, when these discourses are attached to political projects that challenge neoliberal state control—as Zapatista autonomy does—they can reflect progressive, empowering, and emancipatory politics. [Read Speed’s Postscript]

Nations back 165.jpgIntroducing Discipline: Anthropology and Human Rights Administrations
Iris Jean-Klein and Annelise Riles in Volume 28 Issue 2. November 2005

Anthropologists engage human rights administrations with an implicit promise that our discipline has something unique to offer. They focus not on how anthropology can contribute to human rights activities, but on what anthropological encounters with human rights contribute to the development of our discipline. This paper identifies two modalities of human rights anthropology and two key problems with them. [Read Riles’s Postscript]

another.org-by-Peter-Swain-165x165Transparency Short-Circuited: Laughter and Numbers in Costa Rican Water Politics
Andrea Ballestero in Volume 25 Issue 2. November 2012

Between 2006 and 2009, Costa Rican NGOs, an aid agency, and local residents were entangled in the pursuit of transparency as a means to allocate funding for their “human right to water” project initiatives. The aid agency conditioned funding to honest and correct implementation as revealed by indicators. This article examines the building of that indicator system, informants’ fascination with producing “speaking numbers,” and the role that laughter played in the process.

un_security_council_2005Being Part of the Parade—“Going Native” in the United Nations Security Council
Niels Nagelhus Schia in Volume 36 Issue 1. May 2013

How do small states behave once they have a seat at the table? The article describes how one small state—Norway—operated when it was a member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2001–02. In terms of theory and method, even in highly formalized diplomatic settings, such as the UNSC, informal processes are central to understanding how states operate, as well as how the Council functions.

Training Bureaucrats, Practicing for Europe: Negotiating Bureaucratic Authority and Governmental Legitimacy in Turkey
Elif Babül in Volume 35 Issue 1. May 2012

This article explores human rights training programs for state officials and government workers in Turkey. It argues that the human rights agenda of the European Union challenges the traditional role of state officials in Turkey as educators of the people by portraying them as subjects who are themselves in need of education and reform.  [Read Babül’s Postscript]


wilson-flag-2-165A Post-Human Rights Anthropology of Human Rights?
Julie Billaud

Attempting to map out general patterns from articles published in one journal is an exercise that inevitably leaves out a great number of crucial authors, methodological experiments, and theoretical approaches. This Afterword attempts to reflect on the bigger picture of the anthropology of human rights, building on the articles from PoLAR. [Read Afterword]