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The Power of Right(s): Tracking Empires of Law and New Modes of Social Resistance in Bolivia (and Elsewhere)



INTRODUCTION At the end of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's dizzyingly suggestive but frustratingly vague book Empire, the authors take the leap that we all know is coming, but which, given the heights that have come before, we anticipate with a certain amount of dread. After having described what they understand to be a new global socio-political configuration, and having shrouded their analysis in a kind of ominousness, given the fact that Empire emerges through the self-disciplining of millions of individuals around the world, outside of the traditional institutions that can be resisted or even appropriated, they nevertheless go on to predict a revolution by the “multitude” against Empire. It is not the neo-Marxist epistemology that is so unsatisfying about this abrupt end to what is surely one of the most innovatively forethinking works of critical scholarship in recent years, one perfectly and organically embedded in its times. And nor must we necessarily object to the way in which its neo-Marxist social analysis reflects a peculiar transformation since 1989, in which the scientific trappings of dialectical materialism have been replaced by a giddy mysticism, so that the fall of the Soviet system should no longer dampen the “irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist” (2000: 413). Rather, the disappointment with their invocation of revolution is two-fold. First, it is entirely prefigured, rather than established; as I said, we know a prediction of massive system disrupture is coming because we know the theoretical trajectory in which the analysis of Empire is located.
Tracking Law Between the Global and the Local
Mark Goodale
Sally Engle Merry
Mark Goodale
At the end of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's dizzyingly suggestive
but frustratingly vague book Empire, the authors take the leap that
we all know is coming, but which, given the heights that have come
before, we anticipate with a certain amount of dread. After having
described what they understand to be a new global socio-political
configuration, and having shrouded their analysis in a kind of ominous-
ness, given the fact that Empire emerges through the self-disciplining of
millions of individuals around the world, outside of the traditional
institutions that can be resisted or even appropriated, they nevertheless
go on to predict a revolution by the "multitude" against Empire. It is not
the neo-Marxist epistemology that is so unsatisfying about this abrupt
end to what is surely one of the most innovatively forethinking works of
critical scholarship in recent years, one perfectly and organically
embedded in its times. And nor must we necessarily object to rhe way
in which its neo-Marxist social analysis reflects a peculiar transforma-
tion since 1989, in which the scientific trappings of dialectical marer-
ialism have been replaced by a giddy mysticism, so that the fall of the
Soviet system should no longer dampen the "irrepressible lightness
and joy of being communist" (2000: 413). Rather, the disappoinrmenr
with their invocation of revolution is two-fold, First, it is entirely
prefigured, rather than established; as I said, we know a prediction of
massive system disrupture is coming because we know the theoretical
trajectory in which the analysis of Empire is located. For those of us who
have tracked'the expressions of systemic inequality and disadvantage
ethnographically, the intersubjectivity of the research experience itself is
enough to produce acure empathy with those at the receiving end of
structures of domination, even if there weren't ethical or political ration-
ales for opposing what the ethnographer's eye sees, Bur nothing that
ethnographers have documented, irrespective of theoretical orientation,
or belief in the influence of structures large or small, can justiíy a forecast
for system transformation that is anchored in what is merely a modem
version of the ancient doctrine of historical inevitability.l
And second, and most important for purposes of this chapter, the
different paths through which the multitude are-supposed to realign
the networks of power within Empire are not observed as emergent or
actual, but are rather inferred through a process of sheer analytical
imagining. Now as I will argue below, in order to understand the scope
and meanings of contemporary transnational configurations, it is
necessary to synthesize and envision the data of social practice in a
way that requires the application of the critical imaginary; as I have
argued elsewhere,.in a call for a new anthropology of human rights,
even if ethnography is a necessary methodological strategy, it is not
enough (Goodale 2006). But even if the sustained empirical observa-
tion of social processes - no marter how skillful or multisited - cannot
fully capture the ways in which currenr socio-political formations
unfold across traditional geopolitical and even cultural boundaries,
the role of ethnography has nevertheless become as indispensable as
ever. This is because the scope and diffuseness of "Empire" lend rhem-
selves to an obfuscation of a different kind when our understanding of
Empire is not grounded in descriptions of social practices, however
fragmentary and contingent. It is one thing to agree that the trans-
nationalization of social life - including, as this chapter will show,
normative hfe - has made it dlfficult to rely exclusively on techniques
I Despite the fact that anyone concerned with the dignitjr and even meaning of the individual, of
whatever culture, time, or place, shouid flnd the idea of historical inevitability inherently
inimical, it has proved enduringly artracrive, which can perhaps be attribured to rhe way
analytical systems forged in its wake are, if nothing else, explanation-generating machines.
Yet even if the idea of historical inevitability continues to strucrure thinking from evangelical
religio-polirics ro 1aw and economics, from the Panglossian bromides of Oprah-thínk to the
mystical uprising by Hardt and
skepticism about this tendency
viewed') best; that to explain is (
of which arel ringing fallàcies (
pleading and, indeed. obfuscatio
taking stock of the persistence of rhe idea ofhistorical inevitability in 19531
130 131
of observation or empirical study in order to trace the contours of
transnational networks. But it is quite anorher thing to deny the
importance of observation and focused attention on pafticular places
and times altogether, as if the pracrice of everyday hfe had either
become so internalized as ro be functionally invisible to the social
scientist (an analytical trapdoor whlch awaits any anthropologist
hewing too closely to the Foucauldian line), or so embedded in global
structures that its "real" or "meaningful" features lie at too great a
remove to be encountered empirically.
This chapter retains the spirit of Hardt and Negri's analysis of
emerging transnational configurations, although in a mùch reduced
and more theoretically modest form, but departs from (or expands) it so
as to address the problems I've jusr described. By analyzing the rise of
human rights discourse in Bolivia over the last ten years, I am able show
how social research illuminates a key ffansnational network rhat
features many of the characteristics ascribed to ¿he Empire; as it turns
out, it is not necessary (or empirically accurate) to work toward an
understanding of emergent transnational configurations by adopting
such a totalizing framework. As the case of human rights in Bolivia
indicates, it would be more accurate to describe these networks as
emþires, with reference to the specific social or political or legal imper-
atives that they express, as in emþires of law. Yer even if the empire
framework must be reconceptualized and dramatically reduced in order
for it to be useful as an interpretive model, its applicarion to current
Bolivia does create new spaces for analysis and future engagement, most
obviously - as I will describe in detail below - in the way power is
isolated as a distinct vector shaping the emergence of human rights as a
new category ofsociolegal pracrice. But, equally important, the study of
empires of law in Bolivia reveals the possibilities for new forrns of social
resistance, forms that have been emerging in Bolivia over the lasr ten
years. What is so intriguing as a matter of analysis is that these new
forms of resistance have arisen as the result of the type of configurations
that Hardt and Negri envision, but their structures and rationales are
quite different than what Hardt and Negri predict. In other words, they
are right to argue that the eurergence of transnational networks of
biopolitical power - their Empire, my emþires (of law, for example) -
create new conditions for social resistance at the same them they
establish condirions rhat are engendering more alienation (individual
and cultural), greater opportunities for socioeconomic exploitation,
and a decrease in the porenrial for the realization of human capabilities.
But' as the analysis of human rights discourse in Bolivia indicates, the
relationship between empires and social resistance unfolds in several
ways that have not been anticipated by social theorists.
absúactness and social disembeddedness of the source of this chaprer,s
theoretical inspiration, I embed the chapter's different theoråtical
intervenrions in ongoing social research in Bolivia.
t pv "h¡-u. rights discourse" I arn not referring primarily to the body of positive inrêmarional
law that fo¡ms the basis for recent efforrs toãàt".." iegal and poii,i.åL.t"i-, i" .À"ì" .r
international law (e.g., the Intemationai criminal Court).-This is an entirely r.rro.r"bi" *"y of
understanding "human rights.," one that limits the usage to rhe narrow confines of fosl,lr" ir* o,
infomed b1 an analysis of this law's actual ability io demonstrare that it is instrumentally
efficacjous. This-way ofdefining and snrdying human rights is best left to interna¡ion"lt"*r...
and others for whom the analysis ofprocessei of¡ustifiaiility and conflict of int"-"tio."l 1".
come within their special competencies.
I use "human rights" much more b¡oadly: the phrase captures the consrelladon ofphilosophical,
practical, and phenomenological dimensions through whìch universal rights, rights telieu"'Jto b"
entailed by a common human nature, are enacted, debated, practiced, iiol"t.ã, envisioned, and
experienced. when ] describe "human rights discourse," i,m ..f.nirg to these coteries of
concepts, pracrices, and experiences through which human rights havJmeaning at differenr
levels, levels which are prior ro, ând go b¡vã"d, the merely insLumental or legal,"imporìant as
these levels obviously are. My undersianding of hrman rigírts is nor quite as bioad ", up".rdo
Baxi's "protean forms of sæial action assembled, by convãntion, undeì a portal .r."dlÃr-".
rights"' (2002: v), but conceiving of human .ighis as discourse do.r, oËrio*ly, È."ãa* tn"
referent beyond any one of is most consequenriaì parrs (e.g., international humá'rights law).
t3z t33
"discover" everything that is suppqsedly sui generis about the post-Cold
War world, the deeply embedded structures - political, intellectual-
historical, and, especially, economic - that give shape' and even prefig-
ufe to a certain extent, the emergent transnational configurations that
are increasingly present in even the most "local" of social practices. In
describing the study and analysis of human rights discourse in Bolivia as
an expression of an "empire of law," I am attempting to make sense of
the emergence of and, to a certain extent, triumph of human rights
discourse in Bolivia over the last ten years while keeping these two
points of caution in mind.
After developing a framework within which lhe social practice of
human rights in Bolivia can be understood within broader trans-
national networks which unfold horizontally "between" the global
and the local, yet in which the global/local dichotomy is as much a
part of vernacular human rights discourse as anywhere else (this is only
anøþþarcntparadox, see below), I then narrow the focus to consider the
ways in which power emerges as a distinct vector that shapes the way
human rights enter and transform normative universes in Bolivia- An
analysis of the power of human rights in Bolivia is simply another way
of analyzing human rights in practice, an approach that respects both
the instrumental nature of human rights discourse as well as its signifi-
cance in relation to other norilìative and, indeed, social categories. To
do this I distinguish between "right" and "rights," the first of which
draws attention to what I call the corlnotatiue power of human rights;
the second refers to what can be understood as their denoøtiue power.
And finally, the last section of this chapter draws what has come before
together in order to move in a new direction, one which goes some way
toward filling in the large gaps in existing visions for resistance to
emergent transnational social'political configurations' at least as they
revolve around legal or normative regimes like human rights-
In describing some of the ways in which current social and legal
movements in Bolivia appropriate and transfotm human rights dis-
coufse, I am able to point to both actual and potential forms of social
resistance to, and within the terms of, broader transnational networks.
Indeed, there is a peculiar fact about the relationship between
platforms for social resistance and human rights discourse in contem-
porary Bolivia: social resistance becomes hybridized in such a way
that it is articulated within a rights framework at the same time it
formally opposes a western or neoliberal "oppression" of the Bolivian
people that is expressed through projects that are justified, in part, by
that structures the rise of human rights discourse in Bolivia. The fact
of this conrradicrion both gives the lie to the totalizing picture of
transnational networks offered by some social theorists, and shines a
light on an intriguing aspect of currenr transnational legality: its pro-
duction of normative plúralism - a potential new source of sociar
resistance - through universalist (and thus homogenizing) discourses
like human rights.
Finally, it should be acknowledged that my analysis of the compli-
cated uses of human rights discourse within struggles for social change
in Bolivia is somewhat different from the one offered by Daniel
Goldstein in this volume. He places more emphasis on the rradirional
political'ideological roots of current social movements and raises
certain questions about the emergence of human rights in Bolivia
during the era of neoliberal consolidation. As he notes, this was also
the period in which indigenous and other social movements surged in
influence, a process that culminated in the recent election of Evo
Morales as Bolivia's first self-identifying indigenous president. yer, as
I will show in the final section, the differences berween us are perhaps
not as stark as they might appear. \X7e both ãgree that (neo-)liberalism
and the rhetoric of resisrance in Bolivia bring disparate ideological
and even moral categories together. But whereas Goldstein explores
the important effects of this clash of discursive regimes - such as the
emergence of "citizen security" and other "lt.maii.r" frameworks for
coping with social problerns in Bolivia - I try to show in this chapter how
the bringing together of these disparate regimes is essential to both
the functioning of larger rransnarional configurations I call empires of
law, and, even more important, the source of resistance to them.
The norte de Potosí is among the poorest and most iconic of regions in
Bolivia. Potosí is one of nine departments in Bolivia. Its eponymous
capital, Potosí, was the cenrer of the Spanish Empire's silver mining
operations until a century-long economic depression (1650-1250),
from which the region never regained its former economic and cul-
tural cenrrality. The north of the department, which has a distinct
t34 t35
3 I'm obviously reÞresentilg here the claims of scientific development in Bolivia in rheir own
terms; I'rn_n,-or posirioning rnyse[f critically in relation to rhem, at leasr nor yet. As Escobar
( 1995 ) ¿nd (by this poinr) many orhers have shown for other parts of Larin America, the first
wave ofpostwar development was indeed wtapped in an ideological shell that was in many ways
as rigid as those ideologies that supported earlier periods oi interconnection. But what is
important for my purposes here is the formal discursive position of scientific development
(netrtral and non-ideological) and the way it was expressed in practice in opposition to
ldeologiLal - and rhus normative - alternatives.
identity - people self-identifu as norteÞotosinos and there is a regional
newspaper with the same name - is cornprised of five provinces, some
of wÀich are leading Bolivian mining centers (of tin and other non-
Outside of the bleak rnining camps (see Nash 1993), the region is
(read: western) biotechnology ro regions in need, but withor-rt any of
the ideological baggage associared with the ûìost recenr.period of
western outreach (read: colonialism and/or wars of conquesr). The
lack of hurnan development in Bolivia was not, under thl scientific
paradigm, a sign of any essenrial or inrrinsic inequality or deficiency on
the part of Bolivians; it was simply that the contingencies of history had
led some nations or cultures to clevelop or acquire the scientific tools
necessary to conrinue advancing, while others had been left behind.
Scientific development, in other words, arose to meet the chailenges of
poiitical-economic, and not cultural, inequality. scier-rce would be the
great equalizer, providing the means through which even subsistence
agricuituralisrs in Bolivia could produce enough yield so that surpluses
could be stored or sold for profit, thus freeing up peasants to devote time
to all of those nonsubsistence acriviries that herald the advance of
The idea of "progress" was often employed during this period in such
a way that it acqr-rired a kind of nonsubstantive norrnativity. By this
I mean that if progress was both the driving force, and justification, for
scientific development, it funcrioned as a kind of floating signifier that
ir-rtersected with different poiitical and economic interests without
tioned then much like "justice" funcrions today (as a non-sr-rbstantive
normativity), in contrast to "human rights," as this chapter makes clear.
Cornpared with what came afrer, the era of scientific developrnent
represented a tecl"tnical transnationalism, the creation of transnational
networks in order to transfer technologies that had, at least formally,
been detached from their political or intellectual-historical roors.
ning in the mid-1980s, and picking up a qualita,
of momentum in the early 1990s, human rights
via operated within quite a different framework.
136 137
The loPment as a full-blown trans'
nati ize below as ân "empire of law'''
can rst of which is characteristic of
Bolivia (though shared by other Latin American countries), and the
second of which is more global in scope. The early 1980s was the period
in which Bolivia made what has proven to be a lasting transition to
civilian and democratic rule; whether this represents a permanent
closer ties with intemational and westem financial institutions; moves
to decentralize decision making and control over capital and other
2001). But
mains that
4 Fo, a. overview of recent Bolivian history, the best treatment in English remaìns Herbert
Kleint 1982 Boiuia: The Euolutíon of aMuk;-Etlmic Society, which was revised and reissued in
ZOO3 as A Concise Hscø1 of Bolíuia-
approximating that "curious grapevine" that Eleanor Roosevelt pre-
dicted would serve as the conduit for nurturing and transrritting human
rights consciousness around the world.5 This curious grapevine took
various forms, and interconnected (and continues to interconnect)
organizations and individuals who represent different constituencies
and political interests, including international development agencies
(e.g., the units working under the auspices of the United Nations), pan-
regional organizations (e.g., the Organization of American States),
national agencies (in Bolivia, agencies like the Ministry for Human
Development), community-based civil society organizations (in
Bolivia, sindicatos camþesinos, or rural peasant unions, for example),
and, finally, all the different transnational development NGOs that
emerged in the 1990s constituted - or reconstituted - within a human
rights framework. The new human rights configurations were, despite
their different constituencies and diversity in composition, both net-
worked and transnational. Groupings of organizations came together
through an underlying commitment to an idea (human rights) and
region (Latin America, for example) in a way that was non-hierarchical
and, as Annelise Riles (2000, 2006) and others have argued, without
permanent ontological significance, in the sense that their association
was expressed through a complementary set of knowledge practices
without establishing enduring and observable structures (see also
Keck and Sikkink 1998).
Moreover, hurnan rights networks emerged beyond the nation-state,
but not in any way that could be described as "global." Rather, whether
the specific human rights issue was violence against women (Merry
2005), or the protection of indigenous lifeways through the use of
indigenous knowledge (see Goodale 2001; Lowrey 2003; Turner
t997), the networks that emerged to address it included key national
actors, but opened up across national boundaries. As Sally Merry
explains in her recent ethnographic study of human rights networks
organiZed around violence against women:
Human rights processes such as CEDAW [Convention. on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against '!7omen]
5 Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the United Nations cornmittee that would eventually draft what
u,ould become the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, predicted that a nongovern-
mental "curious grapevine" would carry word of human rights to places where governlnenrs
would not otheruise permit it to reach. For an overview of the role of NGOs in carrying the
message of human rights "behind ba¡bed wire and stone walls," see \I/illiam Korey's useful, but
uncritical, account (1998).
138 139
monitoring take place in the space of transnational modernity. This
space incorporates postcolonial elites as well as elites from the global
North. lt is not an exclusively Western space but a transnational one
within which people from all over the world participate to produce a
social reformist, fundamentally neoliberal vision of modernity governed
by concepts of human rights. Its participants - government representa-
tives, NGO representatives, and staff - are, of course, products of
particular localities, but within global human rights settings' they
have developed a distinctive cultural repertoire of procedures ' . . and
[t]hey spend a considerable effort drafting and editing documents that
express the norms of this culture. (2006: 100)
Yet despite the fact that the idea of human rights has become perhaps
the most consequential contemp oraty Lfiliversalism,6 human rights
netlvorks have not been, as a matter of practice, global or globalizing,
but operate within more modest frames.
But the most important difference between human rights develop'
meht and earlier, scientific development is the fact that human rights
development is fundamentally normative, and, if we adopt a suffi-
ciently broad enough definition, 1ega1.7 If the Green Revolution
unfolded under the banner of science, which, as I have argued, was
normatively neuffal in relation to the political-economic conditions
that led to technological inequalities between nations or cultures,
human rights development represents quite a different orientation:
because human rights are universal and entailed by the only norma-
tively relevant trans-cultural fact (i.e., a common and irreducible
human nature), any position in relation to human righrc is, and must
be, itself normative. To be normative, as human rights development is,
is to be both value-saturated, meaning informed by particular values
among a range of alternatives, and, equally important, "political," by
which I mean embedded in - and at the service of - particular align'
ments of power. One could argue that to the extent to which, as
Sally Merry has demonstrated, the emergence of transnational human
6 For a discussion of the distinction between uniuersat a¡d ¿oriuersalism, which is, I argue, an
important point of contrast for the anthropology of human rights in particular, see my recent
, ,og¿st (Goodále 2006).
development can be described as "legal" if we adopt an under-
on rules or noms backed by some legitimate enfo¡cement mech-
anism, without having to specifu in greater detail the kinds of rules, legitimacy, or enforcement
mechanism (or some similar fomulation) we have in mind. This is the understanding of "legal"
I employ in this chapter.
rights networks over the last fifteen years must be seen as one important
expression of a broader "fundamentally neoliberal vision of modem-
ity," that it is neoliberalism (or liberalism)8 itself (or even modemity)
that is normative in this way (value-sarurared and political).
Yet, as I will describe in more detail in the next two sections (on
power and social resistance), this is a position I do not adopt here;
indeed, the uniqueness of human rights within liberalism (and mod-
ernity), their hyþer-normatiuitJ, their apparent self-evidence, place
human rights in opposition to other key political and economic dimen-
sions of the liberal project. So, rather than understanding human rights
as just one among several co-equal expressions of (neo-)liberalism,
I would argue that the anthropology of human rights in Bolivia demon-
strates that human rights operate at registers - social, psychological,
cultural - that are fundamentally distincr from other broad ideological
frameworks that strucrure the pracrice of everyday ln life in Bolivia.
Moreover, the characteristics of human rights discourse in Bolivia that
separates it in some ways from its economic and political cousins are
precisely those that make it a potential source for resistance against
and within the neoliberal project, which is another indication that
human rights unfold in practice in more complicated ways is
normally led to believe.
'!Øhat, then, are these characteristics, and how do they make human
rights discourse a driving force behind the emergence of new rrans-
national configurations in Bolivia? The first, and most important for my
purposes here, is the fact that as people encounter the idea of human
rights, the discourse in which the idea is transmited does not demand
of people that they adopt a particular set of behaviors, or refrain from
B I inse¡t liberalism ir-r parentheses here in order to signal that I think any usage of "neoliberalisrn"
must remain contested. There is no question that the discourse ofneoliberalism has become
dominant in Latin America, particularly as an ordering principle for social movements search-
ing for "new" (i.e., non-marxist) paradigms under which they can successfully organize. This is
trajectory that begins, more or less, at the beginning of the republican era in the early nine-
teenth century, one which continues to feature the most impoitant characteristics of "Íiberal-
ism." For more on debates over neolibe¡alism in LatinAmerica, see the recent special issue of
the PoLítical anà Legal Anùropology Rec)iew on this topic (Speed and Sierra 2OO5 ).
t40 r41
others; nor does it even represent human rights instrumentally, as a
potentially- effective framework within which to address specific
social problems, analogous to all those proffered technological solu'
tions to problems of resource use ot scarcity associated with the
Green Revolution. Rather, people's experiences of human rights are
more intransitive: human rights reveal to people a fact about them'
selves that is beyond their control - as the fact of a person's humanness
is beyond their control - and in the process reþosition them in relation
to other members of their community, the community itself, and,
indeed, all other social categories in terms of which actors in Bolivia
shape their identities. For example, when the director of ahumanrights
legal services center in the norte de Potosí introduces people in his
province to the idea of human rights - and at this point, it is very
much human rights-as.idea that is important - he does soby røuealingto
community members certain facts about themselves that they had not
known before: that they share a "common humanity" (humanidsÅ.
común) with everyone else (not just in Bolivia, but everywhere); that
by virtue of this common humanity they possess certain rights, which
also entail certain duties;g and, finally, because they possess human
rights like everyone else, they are essentially equal and are entitled to a
kind of dignity and respect that is derived from this simple - but
profound - fact of human equality.
To describe the experience of human rights discourse in Bolivia as
intransitive is noq of course, to deny that there is a link between human
rights discourse and specific social practices. But the main purpose of
human rights development in Bolivia is to transform legal (and
social) consôiousness, one person at a time, so that' at some future
point, the historic causes of Bolivia's social problems - ethnic and class
discrimination, cormption, exploitation of key national resources by
multinationals, etc. - will become moot as a new generation of
human rights-bearing subjects are unable to eïther reproduce these
problems, or even imagine them. The distinction I am trying to draw
here between human rights development and earlier regimes of
n Ar I h"rr" written about elsewhere, this impottant rural-iegal intellectual, Lucio Montesinos,
who was also the director of a human rights legal seruices center that operated in the no¡th of
Potosí Department until 1998, has vernacularized human rights discourse in interesting ìvays-
For example, during wedding ceremonies at which he officiates as the province's only titled
lawyer (there are other, "unofficial" lawyers), he comrnonly tells young men that the human
rights of their new brides create certain duties fo¡ them, like a duty to help carry equipment on
the trail. See Goodale 2001, ZOOZ-
interconnection can be illusrated by adapting the cliché about
teaching people to fish: human rights discourse in Bolivia seeks to
reveal to people their true selves, and the normative-legal implications
that result from this revealed truth; it does not provide concrete guide-
lines for action, nor does it give people some normative good - lik"
justice - directly.
The second characteristic of human rights discourse in contemporary
Bolivia is its disciplinarity. Although I can be as imparienr with this
way of understanding the constitution of modern subjectiviry as anyone
(an analytical framework's sheer prevalence should give us pause),
there are several lessons frorn this social theoretical tradition that
help explain what I describe as emþires (of law, for example): that
they are, and are intended to be, selÊunfolding; that the imperatives
of (neo-)liberalism are not imposed on anyone anymore in the way
dependent economic and political relations were imposed during the
periods of imperialism and neocolonialism; and that a self-unfolding
empire is not constituted by elites but by the "multitude" - rhose
millions of people in the core, periphery, and everywhere in between,
for whom the production and reproduction of empire becomes coex-
tensive with the production (and reproduction) of self. This is the
essence of the empire hypothesis: that its imperatives - to erect parti-
cular legal systems, to desire particular modes of production, to under-
stand the relationship berween the individual and the collective in
a particular way - dissolve into individual (and collective) identity so
that the production of empire is both naturalized and made invisible.
lVhen the corregídor au.xiliar of Molino T'ikanoma, a communiry in the
norte dePotosí, told me "human rights indicate the future to us," he was
not talking about a future course of action, but a future that would
unfold through new parameters of identity.lo
And finally, human rights discoursè is experienced by people in
most cases óutside of the traditional "institutional architectures" that
we have come to associate with the rise of modern regirnes of know-
ledge: the university, the mayor's office, the courts, and even culture
itself. Rather, individuals encounter human rights in Bolivia in ways
that are bothpersonal (and thus non-institutional) and trarc-Iocal-The
encounter with human rights discourse is personal - though obviously
10 IthasbeennypracticenottousetherealnameofthisambitiouspoliticoJegalauthority,even
though I have received permission by him to do so. A conegidor mxikar is what is understood in
rural Bolivia as a "state" auihority position, one with historical links to a system ofpatronage
and surveillance that dates to the early colonial period.
t42 143
embedded in social relations - in a very specific sense. Because univer-
sal human rights, in their dominant register (i.e., the one expressed
through instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
[UDHR]), are above politics, before culture, and, quite literally, outside
of history, the individual who encounters them for the first time does so
inwardly; as I have already argued above, the encounter with human
rights is the encounter with a more real, more exalted, and more
consequential self. Although human rights can be protected, violated,
enabled, etc., by the range of legal and political authorities or entities
to which the individual is subject, they are prior to these external forces
in the way that an individual's human nature is prior to them.11
And though the individual's encounter with human rights in
Bolivia, especially in cases of "notrtative first contact," is personal in
this very specific sense, it is also trans-Iocalrz By this I mean two things,
one quite empirically observable, the other more abstract and thus
more difficult to track. In the first place, it is simply an ethnographic
fact that the networks through which individuals come to engage with
human rights discourse in Bolivia are obviously not limited to parti'
cular communities or regions or any other narrowly circumscribed
spaces; although these networks differ in their scope, they. are all
ffans-local and usually Lrans-national, though not global. It is important
to emphasize that even if, as Sally Merry (7005a,2006) and others have
written about recently, human rights discourse is often "vemacular'
ized," nieaning (among other things) rendered into conceptual and
cultural terms appropriate to the particular social context, the fact
remains that the trans-local networks within which human rights
discourse is embedded are not somehow reduced or compressed in the
process, but maintain their trans-locality. So when a human rights-
oriented NGO like PROCLADE (Promoción CbLretid'nø de Desarrollo
ll As with my discussion of scientific deveiopment, I am rnçrely invoking here the dominant
ontological understanding ofuniversal human rights in order to d¡aw certain conclusions about
the social consequences of this understanding as it expresses itself in human rights discourse in
lz I coin the phrase "nomative first contact" only partly ironically. On the one hand, I am
sympatheric to the now-canonical position within anthroþology ttrat sees the older descrip-
tions of cultural fi¡st contact among dazed and confused natives as an expression of the
Orientalist project par excellence. On the other hand, anyone who has been ptesent (as
i have) when the idea of human rights is suddenly introduced to people whose everyday
normative universe is starkly different - non-universalist, non-individualist, non-atomistic,
non-libeml - can't help but appreciate the sense of disorientation that results, even if the idea
ofhunan rights is eventually vernacularized and thus reinterpreted in ways that make sense to
144 r45
created between the community, other pRocLADE centers in
Bolivia, La Paz, PROCLADE s headquarters in Spain, and the
European union, with which pRocLADE often collaborates in
their work in Bolivia. And in the second place, an individual's encounter
with human rights is trans-local in that the terms of the discourse itself
invite individuals to re-envision themselves beyorid the boundaries of
oodale 2005), the anthropology of
of the ethnographic imagination in
up to this poinr, I have described in relatively broad terms the wavs in
which human rights discourse in contemporary Bolivia both consti-
tutes, and reflects the emergence of, transnational configurations that
display many of the characteristics that social theoristJave d.educed
about "Empire," Even if anthropologists of law, not to mention legal
philosophers, might raise quesrions about whether one can describe
we restrict our frame s of the positive law
(through Òourrs, rhe p of lawyeis, etc.), the
link between human r þecomes -rr.h Á,rr.
In rhe nexr secrions, I build on this theoretical framework by
examining in greater detail the mechanisrns through which empires
of law ..Ã"rg" - through human rights discoufse - in Bolivia (and
elsewhere); i., oth., words, the relationship between empires of law
and power.
Connotative and denotative Power
There are two broad ways in which power functions within human
UDHR) to the quite specific (recourse ro provisions of Bolivian law
that represent what they call the reglamenta.ción of tnternational human
I have already mentioned the work of an important rurar-regal
intellectual, Lucio Montesinos, but here I want to focus on him in
more detail in order to illustrate the two ways in which power can be
connotative within human right discourse in Bolivia. Montesinos is
the only "rirled" lawyer in the province Alonso de lbañez, which is a
province in the north of Potosí's Department that is interesting for a
number of different ethnographic reasons rhat go beyond the scãpe of
this chapter, one of which is the fact that Ibañez is not locared ^.ai u.ry
major mining centers. Berween 1995 and 1998 Montesinos served as
the director of a human rights legal services cenrer called the centro de
Servicio Legallntegra¿ (sLI). Before taking over as Director of the SLI,
which was located in the provincial capital, Montesinos had received
training in human rights over a period of several months during trips to
La Paz and other major Bolivia cities. The purpose of the SLI *ã, to
provide the means through which the human rights of v/omen in the
province could be protected by processing cases of spousal abuse,
spousal ab that had been reinrerpreted
as human law during the early to mid-
1990s, wh eral Although the
themselves in fundamental ways.
ra Law 1493 (september 17 , lgg3), a 1aw passed through Bolivia's execurive branch, created the
Vlry*.v of Human Development. Arricle 21, No. 5 of Supreme Decree 23660 (october rz,
1993) created the National Secretariat for Ethnic and Gendler Issues. Articles 85, à6, and 87 of
this same Supreme Decree created the Subsecretariat for Gender Issr.s respánsitle for all
political matters relared ro women. The Ministry of Human Development, in Resoluti on 139194
(september zl, 1994), adopted the National plan for rh. E.adi."tion, p.."..trio.r, "rd
Punishment of Violence Against Women. Article 1 of this Resolurion c¡eated the sysérn qf
S.eruiciosLegaleslntegrales to.carry orr the Resolutio¡'s objectives. Law j,674 (1995), pased by
the_Bolivian Congress, outlined the nature and functión of the SLIs and autháii)ed thei¡
establishment. Fo¡ rnore on the legal and political details surrounding the SLI in Alonso de
Ibañez, see Goodale 2001, and especially Chapter 5.
t46 147
SLI closed involuntarily in 1998, its outreach in the region, and
sustained attempts to bdng human rights cases in the local court
(a juzgado de insnurción, in most cases the lowest rurlg on the Bolivian
ludicial ladder), established an innovative normative beachhead, from
which Montesinos launched a program of human rights education that
continues to the present. The main goal of this unofficial program is to
expose the mostly peasant agriculturalists in the province to the idea of
human rights, and the vastly different worldview that it represents.
Monresinos does this primarily at weddings - as the only titled lawyer in
the province, he's the only one who can legally officiate civil weddings -
and during court sessions at the juzgaÅn, at which he invokes the idea of
human rights and its stric[ures even though a particular case might revolve
around what seems like completely unrelated provisions of, say, the
Bolivian civil code. And his invocarion of human rights has been taken
upby ,wh
rights mul
Alons was
echos" ("we are organized for our rights," i-e., human rights).
Now there are two ways in which Montesinos's activities illustrate
the connotative power of rights. On the one hand, his work at the SLi,
which included intake interviews, discussions with women about the
role of human rights in relation to Bolivian law, and human rights
"counseling,l' among other things, engaged with human rights largely as
an idea that revealed a particulat, previously unknown (to him and
others in the province) truth about of
the place of "man in the universe^ ut
the self-evident tïuth of human r it
expressed and anticipated. But what gave his invocation of human
rights its power, its abiliry to transform - or begin to ttansform -
existing and ,'traditional" ideas about the relationship between men
and women, the relationship between the individual and the commun'
not derived from universal
ional law), was the fact that
the truth of human rights;
this was the basic message Montesinos sought to impart to others' In
other words, for Montesinos the power of human rights flowed from
15 I say spontaneous because the mural was not prompted by any specific polltica1 or legal event in
the'piovince; it simply reflected a new and poweful collective self-awareness. This mural
appeared at the end of 1999.
their rightness, from the fact that they were as sellevidently rrue as any
other fact of nature (hence, the power of "right," as in "correct"). But,
on the other hand, as Montesinos's program of human rights education
outside of the SLI shows - especially his weddng regime, which is
calculated to achieve maximum effect - there is another sense in which
the power of human rights can be connotative. \Øhen Montesinos draws
from human rights discourse during weddings, for example, he does so in
a way that is explicitly comparative: he refers to existing ways of doing
things and shows - in great descriptive detail - the ways in which they
fall short of the newly revealed normative universe. For example, he
might point out that men have traditionally beaten their wives (or
children) when they don't work hard enough in the course of their
daily duties. He then states categorically that this is no longer permissible
because such actions violate the "dignity" of women (or children). He
doesn't refer to a specific human rights provision, in Bolivian law or
odlerwise. He simply gestures toward the real, and thus obviously better,
moral universe that is entailed by the fact of human rights (hence, the
power of "right" in another sense, as in "best" or "superior").
In drawing this distinction between two senses of "right" -
correctness and comparative superiority - I build on the distinction
Jack Donnelly (and others) make between "being right" and "having a
right" (see, e.g., Donnelly 2003 7-13), but depart from it in important
ways. As my research shows, it is not enough to describe the first sense
of right, as Donnelly does, as referring to "rectitude." By this Donnelly
is invoking a very old distinction in (western) philosophy berween
moral ríght, and legal (or positive) rþhrs. But this way of explaining
right is - given its intellectual history - itself normative! The distinc-
tion I draw here is based in what I have documented ethnographically
and perhaps explains the power of rights in other conrexrs; but my
framework does not claim universal applicability. Rectitude is a noto-
riously slippery descriptor, embodying as it does (or can) everything
from simple correctness (a truth-value) to moral rightness. In order tb
avoid this potential confusion, I have simply rendered in the best way
I know how the sense in which human rights constitute a source of
power: through their self-evident truth (correspondent, not moral), and
their comparative superiority in relation to other, less true (or even
false) and thus inferior normative possibilities.
If the connotative power of human rights is a key factor in the recent
rise of human rights discourse in Bolivia, and thus a key dlrramic
impelling the emergence of the broader transnational configurations
r48 r49
I call "empires of law," this is not the only, or even most overt, way in
which human rights are expressed in social practice. The power of
human rights is also, as I have said, denotati{.re: social actors invoke
specific human rights provisions - accurately or not, in Bolivian law or
elsewhere, and for a variety of reasons - instrumentally, as away of using
human rights in a way that can be understood as "legal" in light of the
broad, essentially legal-anthropological, way in which I have employed
the idea of the legal throughout this chapter. Bur in describing this
second form of power as denotative, I am not making a legal positivist
argument, or arguing that the power of human rights in this second
sense derives from their instrumental effectiveness.
Although much of the literature within human rights studies
(especially from within intemational law and political science) focuses
on problems of conflict of laws, justiciability, enforcement, and so on,
this is nor the kind of human rights instrumentalism I am describing
here. The distinction I am making here is an ethnographic one: in
Bolivia, there is clear difference between the allusive reference to the
idea of human rights, the gesture toward the moral universe which the
fact of human rights implies, and the atrempr ro anchor claims (legal and
non-legal) in relation to specific human rights provisions, regardless of
whether such claims are actually enforceable in these terms, or even
whether such attempts are legally or philosophically plausible. So when
actors invoke the right to culture, or a women's right to be free from
domestic abuse, or the right to freedom of speech, they are drawing on
the denotative pov/er of human rights. To say that the denotative power
of human rights does not necessarily mean the actual and correct framing
of claims within an enforceable system of rights is not, of course, to say
that in cases where such framing does exist, this is not also an example
the denotative power of human rights. As the recent case of the
International Criminal Court shows, social actors can invoke the deno-
tative power of human rights when to do so means that their claims
actually stand a chance of being actualized through intemarional human
rights law. But what inreresrs me here is the atæmpr to link claims ro
specific human rights provisions. It is rhe aftempt that has clear ethno-
graphic and conceptual importance for me, and which distinguishes the
denotative power of human rights from the other ways in which human
rights exert themselves discursively within specific setings in Bolivia.ló
16 My analysis ofdenotative power roughly corresponds to Donnelly's second meaning ofrights,
which he describes as "having a right."
of power are potential or actual sources of social resistance, and we can
observe human rights operating in these different registers within
transnational regimes, or at least certain aspects of them.
shape and meaning of emergent transnational configurations, which
they designate as "Empire" as a way to distinguish current develop-
ments fiom the broad networks of political, econornic, and legal power
that characterized earlier eras of imperialism, colonialism, and neo-
colonialism. I nevertheless indicated the different ways in which I have
found their framework unconvincing. ln particular, I was most con-
cerned with their speculations about (1) whether "Empire" should or
will be resisted, (2) if so, why, and (3) if so, how. They speculated that
the "multitude" would begin to resist the consolidation of Empire,
which, it will be recalled, represents a form of global power that unfolds
outside of traditional institutional architectures and which insinuates
itself at the level of individual consciousness by compelling social
actors to internalize the imperatives of global power and then repro-
duce themselves in its terms. Hardt and Negri argue ihat the beginnings
(or seeds) ofresistance to this process can be gleaned in several current
developments, including the rise of vibrant diasporic communities, the
ability of social movements to turn the decline in rnediating institutions
of power to their advantage (i.e., power is closer to people, for both ill
and, hopefully, for good), and the very contradictions of Empire itself,
which engender corruption and signal its eventual decline and fall.
There are two things that must be said at this point. First, I agree that
we should try and understand potential or actual resistance to Empire,
or emþires (of law, for example). Even so, if I have at least begun to
account for the emergence of empires of law, which encompass con-
temporary Bolivia, and if empires of law unfold in large paft through
human rights discourse, a basic question should immediately arise:
What's wrong with that? If human rights discourse plays a large part
in establishing the conditions for new forms of global power, then
shouldn't we put our-intellectual and political efforts behind these
new "empires"? Even my four-year-old daughter knows that not all
witches are bad (see Glinda, the Good \Yy'itch of the North). Is it not
true that empires of law, as I have described them, represent the
emergence of precisely the kind of biopolitical power rhat is necessary
to force authoritarian regimes to stop torturing people, engaging in
secret surveillance of their own citizens for political purposes, and, most
of all, maintaining extra-judicial human warehouses, where political
enemies are humiliated, brainwashed, and otherwise subjected to all
manner of physical and psychological indignities? (I'm of course
alluding to the case of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.) Yet the
critique of empires of law is not necessarily a critique of some still
unrealized global human rights culture, in which the vision of the
uN commission on Human Rights would finally be rearized and
individuals and communiries around the world would thus be able ro
realize their capacities free from restraint and oppression. In other
words, I have nothing to say about the island of utopia, nor the role
of international human rights in getting us there.
The analysis of the actual employment of human rights discourse
in practice in Bolivia is an analysis of the political and economic
inperatives - e.g., late global corporate capitalism - that hamess the
idea of hurnan rights, not an analysis (theoretical, empirical, or other-
wise) of the idea itself. The essentially politiôal narure of contemporary
transnational human rights networks has been well-documented, which
is something that should make us look - ethnographically and analyti-
cally - behind their discursively exalted ourer appearances. I am nor
arguing rhat the emergence of human rights discourse, in Bolivia or
elsewhere, masks a global conspiracy or project of normative or legal
subterfuge (in whlch human rights cover "real" and increasingry unequal
relations of production). But as scholars from Laura Nadei (1999i to
Berta E. Hernández-Truyol (2002) have shown, the currenr human
rights regime either selectively brings attenrion ro abuses that can be
isolated and associated with international political and economic out-
liers (Nader), or justifies supplanting "tradirional" moral or legal systems
in the name of a benign "moral imperialism" (Hernrár-rdez-Truyol).
Moreover, and this is the real point I am trying to make here, the rise
of human rights discourse over the last fifteen years cannot be separated
from other key aspects of the continuing consolidation of liberalism (or,
if you like, neoliberalism) as the dominant global frame of reference. The
analysis of empires of law in Bolivia is an amempr ro shine light on the
relationship berween human rights and these broader pattems.
The second thing that must be said - and this brings me back to
resistance - is that if Hardt and Negri are right to make resisrance an
important part of their hypothesis, their relatively vague speculations
don't help us understand developments in Bolivia over the last fifteen
years, in which the rise of human rights discourse has been accompa-
nied by a corresponding rise in new forms of social resistan... Fo, ihe
remainder of this chapter, I will flesh out the relationship between
these two developments.
The most recenr period in Bolivian history, one which has featured an
intriguing mix of continuiries and discontinuiries, is rapidly building to
r52 153
something like a denouement. From the early to late 1980s, Bolivia's
institutions and elites took some time readjusting to both national
imperatives - the reemergence of civilian rule - and broader geopol-
itical realities, which included active US involvementfintervention in
Latin America as part of the Cold \Var, in increase in Intemational
Monetary Fund demands to implement privatization and austerity
programs as preconditions for massive loans, and the move by multi-
national corporations to take advantages of these first two by using the
assistance of the US government (and the International Monetary
Fund and World Bank) to make a play for a share of the international
privatization largesse. Each of these interrelated developments took on
new meaning in Bolivia after the election of Jamie PazZamon in 1989,
and culminated with the election of his successor, Gonzalo Sánchez de
Lozadain1993. Between 1989 and 1997 (the end of Sánchez de Lozada's
first term), a program that is understood in Bolivia as "neoliberal" was
put into place, and it has endured through the turmoil of the post-1997
period right to the present, when its viability is now in doubt. This
neoliberal program can be briefly described for my purposes here. Its first
pillar was the pursuit of mixed or more pure forms of privatization,
directed toward major utilities and resource sectors (water, natural gas,
petroleum, mining) and transportation (mostly the railroad).
Multinationals were either offered a significant o',¡/nership - short of a
majority in some cases - in formerly state-owned companies, or they
were (more recently) offered full control over certain concessions, which
typically grant exclusive rights to maintain and operate an industry for
extended periods.lT
The second pillar of the neoliberal program'was the embrace of
human rights. This embrace took two main forms. First, there was the
fact that the Paz Zamora and first Sánchez de Loiada governments
opened Bolivia to human rights development work, from both
intemational governmental and nongoveÍnmental organizations.lS
l7 Fo."xample,inlgggasubsidiaryofBechtelCorporation-AguasdeTunari-wasawardeda
forty-year contract to provide water to the entire Cochabamba Valley. And in El Alto, the
epicenter of the cunent social rnovement in Bolivia, the water systern was likewise taken over
by Aguas del Illimani, a consortium jointly owned by the French utility megagiant Suez. As the
journalist Jim Shultz explains, in one of his reports on the Bolivian "water wars," "by pegging
rates to the dollar, [Aguas del lllimani] has raised water prices by 357o since it took over. The
cost for new families to hook up their homes to warer and sewage totals more than $445, an
amount that exceeds rnore than six months of income at the national minimum wage" (Shultz
t8 Ar i-portr.t symbol of this shift was the return of the Peace Ccrps to Bolivia in 1990.
For example, in the early 1990s UNICEF began a series of lireracy and
education projects in the north of Potosí Department that were organ-
ized within the new human rights paradigm. This was followed during
the mid to late 1990s by what I have described elsewhere as an "influx',
of human rights NGOs to Bolivia, who were eager to renew rhe
material and mgral development of Bolivia's poor within their radically
transformed terms of reference (see Goodale 2001; for Cochabamba,
see Goldstein2004; for Santa Cruz, see Lowrey 2003). And second,
there was a concerted effort to reinterpret especially the economic
dimensions of the neoliberal project within a human rights framework.
This was done quite formally, by either translatiiìg parrs of different
human rights provisions through new legislation, or by rnaking the
political decision to reframe longstanding social problems in Bolivia -
access to land, control of natural resources, more decision-making by
marginalized ethnic groups or social classes, etc. - in terms of human
rights. Important examples of these would be new Articles 17i of the
Constitution and 28 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Law of
Popular Participation (No. 1551, April 20, 1994).1e
Beginning in about 1999, and conrinuing ro rhe present, Bolivia
entered a critical phase of the period of history that began in the
early 1980s. Although this chapter is not the place for a full analysis
of these developments, what is important for my purposes is the fact
that new, hybrid forms of social resistance ernerged in Bolivia, which
combined an earlier discourse of structural revolution with a much
more recent human rights discourse. For example, prominent leaders
of the El Alto Federation of Neighborhood Assemblies, which played a
major part in the recent blockades of La Paz which led to the
1e ArticlelTl(No. 1615,February1995)recognizedthe"cultural,economic,andsocialrights"of
Bolivia's indigenous peoples and, even more radically, ceded jurisdiction to "natu¡al author-
ities, indigenous communities, and peasants" in matters of administration and conflict reso-
iution. Article 28 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (No. 19?0, March 1999), which was
largely missed by the public and scholars at the time, was in many ways even more (porentially)
t¡ansformative. This article, subtitled "cornmunity justice," granted indigenous and peasant
comrnunities jurisdiction over c¡ininal matters and recognized the right of communíties to
apply what it called "indigenous Customary Law." The ir. of PopuÌr, Participation was a
longer and rnuch more complicated piece oflegislation, but it was anchored in the same broader
shift toward
tation at all
Congress ratified in 1991, rnaking Bolivia the third country in the world to do so (afrer Mexico
and Nomay). For a more detailed analysis of the ¡elationship between Convention 169, the
Law of Popular Participation, a'd human rights developrnent òn the ground in Bolivia
(especially in the norre de Potosí), see Goodale 2002.
154 t55
resignation of President Carlos Mesa, frame their demands for complete
nationalization of Bolivia's natural resources in terms of indigenous
:rights and Fausto Reinaga's classic 1969 book "La Revolución India,"
which exhorts Bolivia's indigenous population to "tear to shreds the
infamous wall of 'organized silence'that . . . Bolivia . . . has built around
me" (Reinaga 1969). As I will argue, this social resistance - both actual
and potential - has been made possible in part by tensions (contra-
dictionsl) within the broader (neo-)liberal project of which human
rights discourse is an important component.
Human rights and the Pandora's box of (neo-)liberalism
In the first place, the unfoldíng of the most recent iteration2o of the
liberal project, one which is coextensive with Bolivia itself as an
independent nation-state, has revealed a tension between human rights
and liberalism's economic imperatives. Beginning in the nineteenth
century, Bolivian elites have sought to reconstitute Bolivia as a
modern, industrialized nation which will achieve social and economic
development on the basis of individual initiative, the creation of trans-
missible wealth, and private property (especially real property). On
almost all counts, this project has failed, if we measure its history in
terms of its stated goals: the development of Bolivia as a modem and
liberal nation. However, given that Bolivia's landed and industrial
(mostly mining and agribusiness) elites have managed to increase
their wealth steadily over the last two centuries, all the while pursuing
policies on behalf the "Bolivian people," we can say that economic
programs instituted by a range of governments have achieved a kind of
limited progress, one whose limitations have been justified by racial
and class-based arguments, But, until quite recently, human rights were
not explicitly embedded within liberal policies, even though they had
always been part of Bolivian encounters with liberalism in different
forms, from the "rights of man" language in the first Bolivian constitu-
tion of 1826, to the natural rights-based arguments behind the 1874
Law of Expropriation, which decreed the abolition and parsing of
communally held lands, the distribution of titles to individuals (not
communities) as private property, and a liberal and "rationalized"
20 Again, I want to concinue to emphasize the question of whether as a matter of social analysis it
is mo¡e accurate to locate recent developments within a "new" version of liberalism, or as part
ofa much longer, and, in the broad outlines, continuous "pattem of intention" that emerged in
the nineteenth century (see Goodale Z00B). This is a separate, but obviously related, question
from the ways in which "neoliberalism" is employed discursively in Bolivia (and elsewhere).
tax reform that replaced the decidedly non-liberal colonial tribute
structure that continued to be so integral to many areas of rural
Bolivia in particular (see Platt l9BÐ.2r
Since 1989, as I have already described, there has been a conver-
gence between economic liberalism - or neoliberalism - and human
rights in Bolivia. But this convergence has had the effect of unleashing
forces that have the capacity to seriously transform the basic socio-
economic relations of production in Bolivia perhaps for the first
time. In other words, the rise of human rights discourse has shown
liberalism to be a Pandora's box. Human rights discourse was formalized
by the Bolivian state during the early to mid-1990s, and social move-
ments across the range have drawn from this same discourse to attack
economic relations that have their basis in the same liberal project from
which human rights are derived. This has been rrue of social move-
ments across the spectrum, from the class-based Movimiento aL
Sociaksmo (MAS) (Movement Towards Socialist party), led by the
opposition firebrand and coca farmer Evo Morales (and Bolivia's new
president), to the indigenist organizarions based in El Alro, like the
mostly Aymara Federation of Neighborhood Assemblies. Yet even as
sorne MAS representatives attack "derechos humanos" as an expression
of capitalism's hypocrisy (see Goldstein, chapter 1 in this volume), they
do so through a hybrid discourse that invokes the rights of Bolivia's
indigenous peoples to resist the abuses perpetrated in th. name of
individual rights expressed through economics. What is most impor-
tant to underscore here is the way human rights consciousness comes to
serve as a kind of abstract normative standard against which social and
economic relations can be measured (and resisted if needed), even
though, as a matter of political or legal theory, there is a certain para-
doxical quality about one part of a rìghts framework being used to
condemn the other. (Note that the critique of econouric relations by
social movements in Bolivia is not so rnuch a critique of the results of
these [human] rights-based relations, but a critique of the relations
21 A. Silria Rivera Cusicanqui explains about the liberal ¡eforms of 1875-1900, of which the
1874 law was an important part: "the libe¡al reforms ... were preceded by a lengrhy debate
among the republication elite over the fate of the 'backward' territories possessed by rhe
[indigenous communities] since pre-Hispanic times . . When a recovery in the mining sector
generated new sources of revenue in the 1870s, the state was finally able to attempt reforms
aimed at abolishing communal forms of land ownership, [and] legitimating its actions through a
Iiberal rhetoric which equated the abolition of the tribute with the achievemenr of equal
citizenship by the Indian population" (1991: i02).
t56 t57
Conclusion - human rights and normative pluralism
By way of concluding this chapter, let me describe what I see to be the
relationship between human rights discourse, social resistance in
Bolivia, and the emergence of normative pluralism. Universal human
rights, as codified in instruments like the UDHR, represent a formally
homogenous normative system. If we take the ontological assumptions
of the UDHR at face value, as we must' particularly since the universal-
ity which underpins the UDHR is anidea that has tremendous discur-
sive power for human rights actors across the range, then it is clear that
rhere are only two possibilities: rhat systems of enforceable rules either
align with human rights, or they do not. This is merely a descriptive
problem. Of course those "local" normative systems that do not align
with human rights can be altered or transformed - through many
different means of varying degrees of legitimacy - but at any one point
in time, the UDHR metric can be fairly easily apphed- Another way to
make this point is to say that the ontological universality that is
expressed in the UDHR cannot, as a matter of theory - and theory is
important here - rolerate diversity; it is not possible within the universal
human rights framework for the right to life, say, to "exist" for a certain
group of human beings in one place, but not to exist for another group
sonewhere else. Universal human rights are homogenous in this sense:
because they are entailed by a common human nature' and are thus
ernbedded in every human being, they are common to every human
being. In a very literal (i.e., etymological) sense, human rights are
formaily homogenous ("of the same bom")^
But, of course, as the tecent anthropology of human rights has
shown, the homogenizing idea of universal human rights must itself
"exist," in this case not just in the abstract, as a matter of jurisprudence
or philosophy, but in social practice. And as my research in Bolivia
shows, when the idea of human rights is rendered discursively, and
enters the swirl of grounded legal universes, human rights discourse
does not homogenize legal - or' more broadly, normative - practice'
Rather, it both transforms the terms of reference through which the
legal mediates social, political, and economic relations, which is to
be expected, but, even mofe, creates new conditions in which indivi-
duals or groups can organize social resistance. And these conditions are
not necessarily, as one might think, derived from the exalted and
emancipatory vision associated with human rights, but, as the case of
Bolivia shows, are enabled through the normative pluralism that coun-
terintuitively follows in the wake of human rights discourse. Let me
give an example of what I mean. In Alonso de Ibañez, the different
sources from which rules are derived, the different normativities, were
brought into sharper relieí after 1998, when the human rights SLI
had closed and Lucio Montesinos had been engaging in human rights
advocacy for several years. When I say different sources, I am referring
to a complicated network of "interlegalities" (Santos 1995), which
include the following: the provincial juzgado de instrucción; the office
of police; the five defensores or qhel4ueris ("unofficial lawyers") who are
based in provincial capital but work throughout the province; the
corregldor titubr of the canton in which the provincial capital is located;
the rule systems administered by the so-called state authorities (corre-
giÅores ntul¡tres and auxiliotes) outside of the capital; the sindicatos
camþesinos, or rural peasant unions, whose jurisdictional boundaries
in the north of Potosí Department are usually coextensive with the
boundaries of individual communities (called either ranchus estan-
ciøs); and, finally, the province's different ayllus, whích can roughly be
translated as "indigenous social structures," whose non-contiguous, and
even non-geographical boundaries span the entire province and
beyond and which are led by so-called natural authorities (iilnnqus
and segundß).zz
Instead of suppressing (or homogenizing) the tremendous normative
diversity in Alonso de Ibañez, the arrival of human rights discourse
brought the idea that individuals - and, even more important, com-
munities - had the right to otganize themselves in ways that respected
their inherent dignity. This was taken to mean that human rights
promised a kind of freedom and respect for difference that didn't exist
before, or, if so, had existed in a more circumscribed way. This was
evident in the way the unions and ayllus, in particular, underwent a
resurgence of power in relation to the other sources of norrnativity in
the province through 1999 and into 2000. During conflict resolution
processes, in which the relative importance of rules can be gauged,
explanations based in union or ayllu iraditions supplanted in many
cases the formerly more influential "legal" explanations, which author-
ities throughout the province had always appropriated when resolving
local disputes over property boundaries, fights between young men,
damage to crops by animals, and so on (see Goodale 2001). Although
this obviously involves a bit of speculation on my part, I would argue
that the increase in normative diversity in the province was one effect
22 Fo. mor" on this complicated legal/nörmative universe-, see Goodale ZOOI,ZOO2.
of the coming of human rights discourse in the 1990s, and, further, that
this human rights - normative diversity connection establishes the
conditions within which more organized forms of social resistance
can structured. This last point actually leads back to my argument
about the connotative power of human rights: if human rights express
themselves as idea, as a kind of floating signifier that represents a new
form of human dignity and moral worth, then it's clear how human
rights can reinforce - and embolden - existing normativities, even if
their provisions or rules or "laws".do not, strictly speaking, conform to
specific human rights instruments. Even if the potential for social
resistance that this connection makes possible has not "matured"
throughout rural Bolivia, as it (perhaps) has in La Paz and other
Bolivian cities over the last five years, the fact remains that human
right discourse nurtures a new klnd of diversity, and this, in tum,
establishes the conditions for new forms of social resistance to very
old forms of inequality and oppression.
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Shannon Speed*
\X/hnt was Lost in the promuþation of funnan righcs theory ín the 1990s
was the connecLion betueen nghfs and subjec* who can exercise tløse
rþhrs. Chandler ZOO2.: ll4
N ow , ue haue to exercíse our rights otnsel.ves . We don' t need anlone' s
þermßsion, esþecialll that of politicians ... Foming ow own Mtono-
mous municipaLities, that's whatwe me doinginþrortice andwe don'task
anyone's þermíssion.r Comandanta Esther August 2003
On an August day in 2003,I huddled beneath a plastic tarp through a
typical afternoon downpour in the highlands communiry of Ovenric,
Chiapas. While the weather was nor unusual, the day itself was far from
typical: I stood, accompanied by several thousand others - indigenous
people from throughout the state and activists from throughout the
country and the world - listening ro the speeches of Zapatista leaders.
They spoke of the birth of the five "caracoles" (literally, shells, but
indicating meeting points)z and the formarion of the fiveJuntas deBuen
* Research for this article was supported by the SSRC-MacArthur Foundation, the Ford
Mora, Alvaro Reyes, María Teresa Sierra, and the participants in the MIT conference
. "T¡ansnationalism and Human Rights" in June of 2005.
I Sound recording available on-linJat This and all translations herein are by rhe
2 Subcomandante Marcos introduced the the
most ancient ones said that others, rnore col.
They say thai they say rhat they said th rhis
162 163
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This paper critically investigates the implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights (UNGPs) into the corporate setting through the concept of ‘translation’. In the decade since the creation of the UNGPs, little academic research has focussed specifically on the corporate implementation of human rights. Drawing on qualitative case studies of two multinational corporations—an oil and gas company and a bank—this paper unpacks how human rights are translated into the corporate context. In doing so, the paper focuses on the “resonance dilemma” translators encounter, the strategies used to make human rights understandable and palatable, and the difficulties that emerge from this process. We contend that the process of making human rights understandable and manageable can change their form and content, which may act as an obstacle to human rights realisation and corporate accountability for human rights.
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