Western interpretation of human rights thesis
universality of the Western interpretation of human rights.
In Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus edited by Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim (1992), the articles are mostly concerned with reworking the notion of human rights in an effort to achieve consensus on a ‘new,’ ‘more universal’ (or cosmopolitan) view of human rights, as “the lack or insufficiency of cultural legitimacy of human rights standards is one of the main underlying causes of violations of those standards” (1992, p. 19). Subsequently recognizing the fact that the prominent view of human rights is a Western one, an-Naim points out that, over the course of history, groups in power (or dominant classes within a society) typically uphold views and perspectives of cultural values and norms that are supportive of their own welfare, declaring these values to be the only legitimate view of that culture (1992). Further, an-Naim (1992) argues that, even though the West may have the honorable intention of supporting whatever dominated and oppressed society is under its question, when it maintains that it understands the legitimate perspective of the culture of the society, the West cannot support the society effectively; for this view “portrays [these societies] as agents of an alien culture, thereby frustrating their efforts to attain legitimacy for their view of the values and norms of their society” (1992, p. 20).
Likewise, Gustavo Lins Ribeiro (2007), in “Cultural Diversity as a Global Discourse,” argues that, given their positions of hegemony in the modern world, Western and Eurocentric formulations of human rights have stifled other angles. He further argues that “it was Europe’s centrality in the world system that allowed modern European ethnocentrism to pretend to be universal” (2007, p. 9). The Western notion of human rights can thus become a “great priority for policy makers interested in conflict resolution or development initiatives” instead of a truly universal pursuit, devoid of ulterior motives (Ribeiro, 2007, pp. 8-9).
To illustrate European or Western hegemony over cultural standards, Ribeiro (2007) dedicates a large part of his text to World Heritage. As World Heritage Status is given to ‘things’ with ‘outstanding universal value,’ the discourse of World Heritage is exclusionary (Ribeiro, 2007). “Outstanding universal value’ defines what (in reality, who) is universal and deserves to be a part of the world heritage, i.e. what/who transcends the confinement of locality and is capable of being admired by others in a global symbolic economy” (Ribeiro, 2007, pp. 5-6).
Quite unlike the previous two readings, however, “Brazilian Feminism and the State in Regards to Gender Equality in the 2000s” by Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) recalls the history of Brazilian Feminism and how it has progressed to the present day. Most important to Machado is the feminist movement’s drive to get their hands into the agenda of public policy, and indeed, by the current century, the feminist movement in Brazil has gained so much power that it currently holds a position in the presidential ministry, playing an important informational role in policy (Machado,-YEAR). While this particular article is not, at the surface-level, related the previous two, a parallel can be drawn between ‘where’ the Brazilian feminists ‘went’ (their beginnings as a disorganized movement to prominent political actors) and ‘where’ the cosmopolitan authors of the previous readings want to ‘go’ (toward a new, ‘diversal’ conception of human rights, assumingly). Machado’s piece also shows how a group of individuals — feminists — worked to affect significant change to a centuries-old paradigm of male domination. This effort can be thought of as directly analogous to what the future of cosmopolitanism will (hopefully) look like.
In “The Many Faces of Cosmo-polis: Border Thinking and Critical Cosmopolitanism,” Walter D. Mignolo (2000) seeks to explore cosmopolitanism in relation to globalization, capitalism, and modernity. Mignolo defines globalization as “a set of designs to manage the world” and cosmopolitanism as “a set of projects toward planetary conviviality” (2000, p. 721). Global designs are imperial in nature and are indicators of modernity (Mignolo, 2000). Their goal is to control and homogenize (Mignolo, 2000). Cosmopolitan projects, Mignolo offers, provide critical perspective on periods of globalization, or the emergence of different global designs (2000). On the other hand, they can compliment global designs.
However, cosmopolitan projects have always originated and existed within modernity and have thus never escaped “the ideological frame imposed by global designs themselves” (Mignolo, 2000, p. 724). As such, Mignolo distinguishes two types of cosmopolitanism: cosmopolitanism from the perspective of modernity and critical cosmopolitanism from the exteriority (those not yet integrated) of modernity (2000). Given this information, Mignolo (2000) explores historical moments that define the characteristics of the modern world and shows how the question of rights has always hindered cosmopolitan projects.
The three historical moments that define the characteristics of the modern world while ‘forcing’ concepts of cosmopolitanism to emerge, according to Mignolo (2000), are the instances of the Spanish Empire and Portuguese colonialism, during which prominent thinkers (Vitoria, specifically) were forced to consider the rights existing outside the realm of Christianity (the then-current global system); the British empire and French and German colonialism, during which prominent thinkers (Kant, specifically) were forced to do the same thing as did those in the 16th Century, but this time under the global system of the ‘nation;’ and U.S. imperialism, as a “universal conception” of human rights is now accepted, but in actuality, is a Western concept, forcing a cosmopolitan response.
In essence, this essay strives to address first that cosmopolitanism, as it has mostly existed, is a Western occurrence, and thus, not necessarily ‘cosmopolitan’ at all. Mignolo (2000) thus argues for a ‘critical cosmopolitanism’ that is seen from a ‘border perspective.’ He also argues that cultural relativism is a valid concept, in some way, but that the universal conception of human rights is in itself a statement that the West decides what human rights are (2000). Cultural relativism, in another sense, does not work, because it is, in itself, indicative of preferring a specific culture (Mignolo, 2000). In this sense, the term is redundant. Further, if modernity is characterized by powers of colonialism, the West will always, in a sense, rule, and ‘decide’ human rights (Mignolo, 2000). This seems unjust. Mignolo suggests “diversality” as a potential solution: “a universal and cosmopolitan project in which everyone participates instead of ‘being participated'” (2000, p. 744). While he never explicitly states the definition of “diversality,” it seems as if he is referring to some organic system that does not currently exist ‘within’ the Western paradigm — or any paradigm, for that matter — that has the power to ‘unite’ people (this system would represent a form of critical cosmopolitanism) under some system that is “democratic [and] just…as far as democracy and justice are detached from their ‘fundamental’ European heritage” (2000, 743).
In essence, Mignolo wants those outside the West to be connected to those in the West, thus increasing their rights, but not connected by inclusion. Rather, those excluded by the West, and the West itself, should be connected by diversality. In this merging act, Mignolo says, basically, that the West will be transformed into something ‘not-West.’ “Imagine Western civilization as a large circle with a series of satellite circles intersecting the larger one but disconnected from each other, diversality will be the project that connects the diverse subaltern satellites appropriating and transforming Western global designs” (Mignolo, 2000, p. 745).
Systems, struggles and processes of attempting to quell the tide of human rights issues thread the readings of Group Three together. However, not all the readings agree on the appropriateness of the Western human rights regime to address these issues; one regards it highly, one is dedicated to questioning its legitimacy, and the last retains a fairly neutral view, offering both sides of the Western human rights / cultural sensitivity coin.
In Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice by Sally Engle Merry (2006) examines, in an obviously pro-Western notion of human rights stance, the CEDAW, and how it deals with human rights on an international level. The CEDAW is a United Nations convention that is monitored by a treaty body which is, at its basic level, an international bill of rights for women (Merry, 2006). While the CEDAW is a “law without sanctions” and thus can do nothing in the way of punishment, it does such important cultural work as articulating “principles of gender equality and state responsibility” and demonstrating “how they apply to the countries under scrutiny;” additionally, it “fosters new understandings of gender and violence” (2006, pp. 70-71). Moreover, the experts at the CEDAW are apt to perceive culture as hindrances to women’s human rights (Merry, 2006). Merry’s (2006) article further goes on to claim that the human rights system, because of its foundations in international consensus building, is important because it “differs from many prevailing practices and it is internationally legitimate. Thus, it often challenges religious, customary, and national conceptions” (2006, p. 90).
In an anthology titled Race, Gender, and Class in Criminology: The Intersection, edited by Martin D. Schwartz (2006), many arguments are presented, most of which generally criticize the Western treatment of First Nations people or address women’s rights issues. As an example, “Aboriginal Australia: Current Criminological Themes” by Rick Sarre (2006) focuses on the affect of British colonialism in Australia on the Aborigines, connecting it to a vast overrepresentation of Aborigines in the Australian penal system. “The Left Realist Perspective on Race, Class, and Gender” by Walter S. DeKeseredy (2006) illustrates the fact that, in the United States, it cannot be said that there is ‘justice for all;’ “First Nations people and African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated than members of the dominant culture who commit the same crimes” (p. 49). Throughout most of the articles, different approaches to solving such attitudes are explored, such as the left realist theory and the postmodern perspective.
The Female Circumcision Controversy: an Anthropological Perspective by Ellen Gruenbaum (2001) tracks the progress of the movement to end female circumcision in Sudan. The ‘controversy,’ mentioned in the title of the book, can be seen illustrated — even today — in the attitudes of the Sudanese (Gruenbaum, 2001). Female circumcision is still occurring, partly because Islamic females in Sudan feel that it necessitates respect (Gruenbaum, 2001). Female circumcision has also provided a cultural marker — something by which the Sudanese have defined themselves in nationalistic fervor in the past. The controversy lies also in the fact that attempts to stop or convince the Sudanese to halt the practice of female circumcision have been met with — even by Sudanese women’s rights groups — sentiments that these efforts have merely been attempts at infringing upon their culture by the West (Gruenbaum, 2001). This reading — this group of readings, even — shows how one could view culture ‘getting in the way’ of human rights, while another could view ‘human rights’ as ‘getting in the way of culture,’ while yet another could view the Western conception of human rights as getting in the way of another (more universal?) view of human rights that defends one’s right to ‘follow’ the practices of one’s own culture.
In the Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia, by Marilyn Strathern (1988), it is first argued that, among the assumptions to have “dogged anthropological approaches to the peoples and cultures of Melanesia,” many scholars have, in the past, have expected to find others (read: subalterns) “solving the metaphysical problems of Western thought” (p. 3). For example, Melanesian initiation rites have been interpreted by many anthropologists as a “socialization’ process that transforms the products of nature into culturally molded creations” (Strathern, 1988, p. 3). Similarly, many anthropologists have surmised that the political action of the Melanesia is born out of the desire for cohesion and results in social structures (Strathern, 1988).
Like many of the other authors reviewed in this paper, Strathern is concerned with breaking down previous attempts at anthropology in order to study other cultures from a non-Western, or non-cultural perspective (1988). She says, of previous anthropological attempts that related ‘initiation’ to ‘socialization,’ etc.: “Far from throwing out such frameworks for understanding, however, I argue instead that we should acknowledge the interests from which they come. They endorse a view of society that is bound up with the very impetus of anthropological study. But the impetus itself derives from Western ways of creating the world. We cannot expect to find justification for that in the worlds that everyone creates” (1988, p.4).
In essence, Strathern is saying what many of the other authors are saying: anthropology has consistently overlooked the fact that it is a Western approach to looking at the world. As such, anthropology has consistently only been able to exercise a limited, and perhaps inaccurate, perspective on the study of subaltern cultures. In other words, Strathern is in essence ‘blaming’ previous anthropologists for interpreting non-Western cultures in a Western way; for not thinking to question the lens through which they viewed their subjects.
This is the way in which Strathern starts her book; denying the accuracy of previous attempts at studying Melanesia, and writing that she will not make the same mistakes. She goes on to point out the ways in which studies have failed, and succeeded in Melanesia, and explains that she intends to point out the framework by which much current anthropological thought operates under (1988). She writes that she intends to use feminism in this discussion. She discusses feminism at length, pointing out theoretical differences between different schools of feminist thought, relating feminism to social science and showing how they overlap, and explaining its historical and hoped-for function (1988).
In the reading, Strathern goes on to reinterpret the male initiation ceremonies for the Papua New Guinea Highlands. A reinterpretation is necessary, Strathern writes, because the agreed upon interpretation of these initiation ceremonies are viewed through “the Western eye: the image of the boy child being removed from an overbearing female sphere, in order (as the analysis went) to socialize him into masculinity; and the image of females circulating among men like so many wealth items, their femininity or fertility (it was assumed) the instrument of callous male reciprocity. At best these interpretations captured half truths” (1988, p. 5).
Strathern functions mostly in this way throughout the rest of the reading, first debunking previous, often male-oriented, Western views of Melanesia and then interpreting them within her own perspective, which is feminist and attempting to be ‘not-Western.’ Like many of the other reading, this reading, as a whole, seems to yell for a shift in paradigm; for a new way to look at subalterns, and to include femininity in this new way, because previous attempts have imposed Western conceptions, and male-oriented conceptions on top of those, and thus could not have fully comprehended, in an accurate way, the culture under study.
This group of readings is connected, first, by the fact that they concern violence and the subjugation of women and homosexuals in Brazil. Second, all authors in this group hold that injustices are continually propagated by Brazilian social institutions to this day.
In Anthropology and Feminism on Violence, Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) attempts to illustrate the problems and possibilities for feminist and anthropological discourses to be explained and put forth by the subjects of such studies, feminists, and anthropologists themselves. Machado (YEAR) also discusses anthropological traditions, such as the concept of cultural diversity, the prevailing knowledge of feminism, feminist traditions, and perspectives of the contemporary Feminist Movement. By so doing, Machado (YEAR) holds that she wishes to “establish a fruitful dialog between men and women anthropologists and sociologists, whether there are or aren’t feminists” (p. 1).
In “Forms, Types and Gender of Violence in Brazil,” Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) argues that the growth in new forms of violence illustrates the future difficulties of constructing a society managed by human rights and peace. She distinguishes between traditional violence — violence between individuals, between nations, and between individuals and institutions as a form of solving conflicts, and violence of gender that acts to subjugate the position of what is symbolically thought of as “feminine” — and ultramodern violence — violence associated with drug trafficking, the use of illegitimate violence among state security agencies ‘masked’ as the legitimate use of force, violence derived from the expansion of private security networks, and terrorism, hate crimes, and, in general, violence that exists for producing a spectacle of itself (YEAR). Machado chooses to focus on the forms of interpersonal violence at the Brazilian national level, and largely focus on the prevalence of gender-related violence (YEAR).
In “A (Anti)homosexual Familism and Regulation of Citizenship in Brazil” by Luiz Mello (2006), thoughts, interpretations, and reflections are offered on the theoretical and political debate between homosexuals that have occurred within the ten years after the formulation of first piece of proposed legislation instituting civil partnerships between same-sex people in Brazil. Mello (2006) shows how legal rights for gay and lesbian partners and parents have been denied and have thus explicitly denied these people’s citizenship. Mello (2006) also shows how romantic and sexual relationships in Brazil are, in legal terms, merely a heterocentric possibility, which is an illustration of the “erotic injustice and sexual oppression that affects gays and lesbians in Brazil and most of the world” (p. 1).
From Indifference to Inequality: Race in Contemporary Brazil, edited by Rebecca Reichmann (1999), is a volume that, for the purposes of this paper, discusses ‘The Soda Cracker Dilemma,’ the identity of black women in Brazil, and the women workers of Rio. In speaking of the Soda Cracker Dilemma, an analysis of black women’s reproductive rights in Brazil and the United States is offered, and shows how social institutions, in both countries, “maintain the perception of race (and gender) and in doing so reinforce racist (and sexist) practices” (Roland, 1999, p. 195). On the identity of black women in Brazil, it is explained how black women have been mistreated by current institutions in Brazil, and how they are discriminated against for both being black and being female (Carneiro, 1999). On women workers of Rio, the author compares the careers of four women working in the Rio de Janeiro labor market (Damasceno, 1999). Interviews with these women appear in the piece. The author uses these four case studies in an attempt to explore the best factors that are to be in place for “black” women’s success in Rio, for their failure, and how “color” operates as a selective principle (Damasceno, 1999).
This group of readings is connected by the fact that they concern, specifically studies of subalterns and how the global hegemony has affected them. While Wade’s (1997) piece is more about the approaches taken to different studies of subalterns, the volume edited by Harrison (YEAR) deals directly with questions and answers about the inequalities between hegemonic powers and those on their outskirts.
Resisting Racism and Xenophobia, by Faye V. Harrison (YEAR), is a volume of work by authors that argue that racism, sexism, and other -isms can be dealth with by things like reeducation, consciousness raising, concerted action, and “a willingness on the part of some to relinquish unearned privilege for the sake of acknowledging and embracing, in meaningfully substative ways, the humanity and human rights of others, particularly those suffering the brunt of the politics and political economy of dehumanization and stratified personhood” (Harrison,-YEAR, p. 29).
In this volume, discrimination against Dalits and Dalit women in India is discussed from the viewpoint of illustrating how a structure of oppression survives in covert forms, and has deep foundations, even when these foundation have been said to have been done away with in legislation and overt social norms (Channa,-YEAR). Cheryl Fischer (YEAR) discusses the fight for civil and human rights by the women of the American South, particularly in Springfiled, Missouri. Melissa D. Hargrove (YEAR) examines sex workers in the Caribbean, and how the human rights abuses in this sector often go unnoticed. In this discussion, she cites “the female underside of globalization,” how globalized tourism contribues to the selling of sex, how this serves to perpetuate racism and inequality in the Carribean, and more (YEAR, p. 124).
Race and Ethnicity in Latin America by Peter Wade (1997) explores the meaning of race and ethnicity. Wade (1997) first warns, however, like many of the other articles in this article review, that “academic concepts are not independent of their social context” (p. 5). In exploring the meanings of race and ethnicity, Wade (1997) first begins with anthropologists’ early conceptions of blacks and indians in Latin America from the 1920s to the 1960s. In this period, they were thought of as either indigenista or groups of individuals that could be infiltrated with the aim of discovering their internal mechanisms of social integration (Wade, 1997). Moreover, some studies of indigenistas in Mexico during this period were often completed for the purposes of understanding better how to integrate them (Wade, 1997).
Wade (1997) goes onto to discuss the interethnic relations in Chiapas, Mexico, and how colonialism effected anthropology and the people that lived in Latin America. He discusses how black people in Latin America were approached by early antrhopologists, and how anthroplogists have studied race and class in Brazil, and points out several interesting facts, including the assertion that some studies, such as one conducted by UNESCO, “undermined the idea of a racial democracy in Brazil, and, in some cases, detailed many aspects of how racism worked in a non-U.S., non-‘caste’ system” (1997, p. 57).
Wade then explains the positions of blacks in indians in the post modern nation-state, and how the overall context, in the 1980s and 1990s, for understanding race and ethnicity was the analysis of postmodernism (1997). He then explores black and indian social movements in Latin America, as well as gender movements. In the end, he says that he has shown how the concept of identity has become more fluid and flexible.
The readings in Group Seven are focused almost solely on questioning, from a feminist standpoint, the link between culture, gender, and the subjugation of women. Many of the authors in this group recognizing the influence of culture on an individual, but are wary of it, as ‘culture’ itself is a thing in which an individual does not own, but has only contributed to; ‘culture’ is a term with a foundation in the collective. Thus, in many of the readings, to assign gender to an individual is difficult, as gender is cultural term, and as such, an individual cannot own his or her personality, or own self.
This particular idea is most reinforced by Judith Butler in her collection of essays, Undoing Gender, which focus, largely, on how the world might look if limiting, normative ideas of sexual and gendered life were undone. (2004). Of gender, she states that the term was born and has always existed in a sociality (outside of oneself) and has no single author. Thus, a person’s ‘I’ (read: core, or soul, or persona, or personality), who “ought to be bearing a gender is undone by being a gender” (2004, p. 16) in other words, Butler (2004) argues that gender is a sociological, too-general concept perhaps not suited for individual classification.
Similarly, Henrietta L. Moore (2007), in the Subject of Anthropology: Gender, Symbolism and Psychoanalysis, points out that “one of the key difficulties for a modern anthropology is to find a means to avow and maintain the importance of cultural difference whilst simultaneously acknowledging that culture is not and cannot be wholly determining” (p. 22). Moore’s argument shares many other similar points with Butler’s, including, significantly, the idea that models of culture are “not necessarily a good guide to how individuals love, experience and reflect on being a gendered individual in a specific context” (2007, p. 24). She calls on anthropologists to rethink this relation (2007).
Likewise, Sherry B. Ortner (1996) seems intent on inducing change in Making Gender: The Politics of Erotics and Culture through a critique of practice theory — a theory that determines that human action is constrained by the current social and cultural order (often called ‘structure’) while maintaining that human action creates, reproduces, transforms, and/or unmakes it (note the similarities between this confusion and Butler’s confusion of the ‘I’ in gender). It is Ortner’s contention that practice theory is necessary for the progression of feminism because it is, in a number of words, the most practical (1996).
Feminist Research Practice: A Primer by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber & Patricia Lina Leavy (2007) focuses on feminist standpoint epistemology, which they describe as “a unique philosophy of knowledge building that challenges us to (1) see and understand the world through the eyes and experiences of oppressed women and (2) apply the vision and knowledge of oppressed women to social activism and social change” (2007, p. 55). More concerned with affecting change than theorizing (as Butler’s piece seems to be), Hesse-Biber & Leavy (2007) explore different ways of “integrating a feminist standpoint framework into our research practices,” new perspectives of women’s life experiences, and “how we can integrate research into oppressed women’s everyday lives” (2007, p. 55).
Finishing this group of readings, Saba Mahmood, in Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005), discusses how Islamic women have an overwhelming tendency to accept the patriarchal assumptions at the core of Islamic tradition, and analyzes how these patriarchal assumptions can be brought out into the open. While this article does not immediately connect with the others, it shares as its basis the desire to improve upon and achieve women’s human rights.
The common theme that threads together “Two European Images of Non-European Rule” by Talal Asad (1973), “Colonialism and the Perception of Tradition in Figi” by John Clammer (1973), “Imperial Humanitarianism: History of an Arrested Dialectic,” by Gil Gott (YEAR), and Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, by Richard G. Fox (1991) is the idea that anthropology, as it has existed since its conception, has always existed within the framework of the Modern West. The Modern West is characterized by expansion, colonialism, and imperialism. Thus, modern anthropology has always studied non-Western cultures through a Western lens and subsequently made these non-Western cultures more vulnerable to Western domination, as well as simply misunderstood them.
In Asad’s (1973) piece it is argued that anthropology, by either omitting or refusing a working discussion regarding the way in which bourgeois Europe forced its power and notion of government and politics on African peoples, made it easier for the colonial classes to rule (1973, p. 118). Anthropology, Asad claims, is a discipline born and raised within a privileged, European society, and by its nature, studies non-European societies which have come under its economic, political, and intellectual dominion (1973). Moreover, anthropologists fail to see the lens behind which their perceiving non-Western culture; Asad (1973) claims that typical descriptions of African structures — for example — consistently failed to take into account “the political fact of European coercive power and the African chief’s ultimate dependence on it” (p. 108).
“Colonialism and the Perception of Tradition in Figi” by Clammer (1973) carries further the idea that the study of anthropology has fallen short on many accounts. This has been the result of failing to recognize the framework from which it operates (Clammer, 1973). It moreover concerns the fact that initial anthropological studies codified the customary practices of the Fijian people in order that the British might govern them more effectively (Clammer, 1973). The article illustrates how the British implemented, in Figi, a Western notion of power, of which has carried over after the country’s colonization period. Moreover, similar to Asad’s (1973) article of the failure of anthropology, Clammer (1973) suggests that “many anthropologists have fallen into the trap of accepting the new image [current Fijian political system] as the old [Fijian system of polity before being introduced to Western rule]” (p. 219-220).
In a similar vein, “Imperial Humanitarianism: History of an Arrested Dialectic” by Gil Gott (YEAR) explains human rights is a distinctly Western idea, with its roots in Enlightenment-era ideas about universal human dignity. It shows how modern humanitarianism can actually reinforce Western hegemony, as it joins with imperialism as part of an emblematic arrangement that is a unique and vital characteristic of modern international engagement. Gott suggests, in order to stop this problem at its source, a decisive human rights endeavor needs to sever ties with “received forms of humanitarianism and concomitant representational structures” (YEAR, p. 35).
In the Introduction of Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, Fox (1991) basically recaps and reinforces the idea of Western anthropology being a limited science that fails to recognize that its roots contaminate the very cultures in which it professes to know so much about. Fox (1991) calls for reformulating the science of anthropology on the grounds of “reflexivity, relativity, and the rejection of a privileged position for science” (p. 4).
In this group of readings, we see perhaps the most forward thinking pieces, which all seek to, on one level or another, to recap the history of anthropological studies (including gender and feminism) or suggest new ways of approaching anthropology. Each reading in this group seems to be connected by thoughts that anthropology — and feminism — have, to a certain extent, outgrown themselves. As such, new methodologies are explored or are called for. Postmodernism plays an important role in a number of the readings, as well as does a somewhat detached self-consciousness of the framework which they are both exploring and operating within.
Roy Wagner (2001) offers the most ‘meta’ piece in this group with his book an Anthropology of the Subject: Holographic Worldview in New Guinea and Its Meaning and Significance for the World of Anthropology. He seems to be most concerned with the study of anthropology as a limitation to the field of anthropology. For example, he offers this question: “Do the facts of human conception actually answer to the conception of the human that asks of them?” (2001, p. xix). As a response to what Wagner seems to conceptualize as anthropology’s contamination of itself (“But even on what could be considered its home ground, the contagion of the principle, the interference patterning of how it works pragmatically upon itself, takes over from the effort to place, identify or acknowledge it”), the author offers holography, which “may be the only idealized quality we have that really works, because it works on itself” (2001, p. xx).
In a method similar to Wagner’s, Elizabeth a. Povinelli (2002) questions the current system of Australian liberal multiculturalism in the Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. Povinelli asserts that liberal multiculturalism in Australia attempts to encourage the indigenous population to perform a ‘reuptake’ of an authentic self-identity: a “domesticated nonconflictual ‘traditional form of sociality and (inter)subjectivity” (2002, Introduction). Yet, when we look at who is actually telling them to do this — the ‘Australians’ — we realize that the request is absurd. The indigenous culture has changed as a result of British colonialism and been oppressed. There is no return to an ‘authentic’ or pure form of culture possible.
Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, edited by Lila Abu-Lughod (1998) also seeks to rethink the role of a paradigm in anthropology. Specifically, the volume addresses three issues: (1) how women have become symbols of identity in the postcolonial world, (2) the way women participate in social struggles (under the guise of ‘feminism’), and (3) how the West has influenced gender politics in the Middle East (Abu-Lughod, 1998).
Feminist Anthropology: A Reader, edited by Ellen Lewin (2006), begins with the proclamation that feminism has moved from “being an anthropology of women to an anthropology of gender, and finally, in its present form, primarily a feminist anthropology” (2006, 1-2). As do the previous readings in this final group, Lewin recognizes how anthropology itself is ever shifting. As such, Lewin (2006) seeks to recap the history of feminism by assembling a collection of ‘classic’ feminist readings. Of these pieces, Lewin states: “The feminist anthropological writings that have made their way into this volume are, in a sense, the winners of the struggle for legitimacy that took place when the field was first forming” (2006, p. 4).
In a similar vein, Women, Gender and Labour Migration: Historical and Global Perspectives, edited by Pamela Sharpe (2001), recaps the history of women in migration, taking the position that migration is a gendered process that mirrors the differing situation of women and men in society.
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