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Blackwell Companion to Moral Anthropology--Human Rights

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Blackwell Companion to Moral Anthropology--Human Rights

Abstract and Figures

This chapter explores some of the ways in which the recent anthropology of human rights contributes to both the anthropology of morality and the broader understanding of morality itself. Anthropologists have found the ethnography of human rights practices to be a fertile source of new ideas about the relationships between normativity, agency, and social and political intentionality, in particular, and this chapter examines the implications of one of these ideas: that the practice of human rights has become a new sphere of contested moral practice in the contemporary world, one that is essentially creative, contingent, and shadowed by the specter of tragedy.
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A Companion
to Moral
Anthropology
2D(r)
by
Fassin
@WrEY-BLACKITELI
Edited
Didier
A fohn Wiley 8l Sons, Ltd., Publication
Contents
Notes on Contribwtors
Introduction: Toward a Critical Moral Anthropology
Did.ier Føssin
Part I Legacies
L Durkheim and the Moral Fact
Brwno l(ørsenti
2 Weber and Practical Ethics
Isøbelle I(ølinowshi
3 E. P. Thompson and Moral Economies
Mørc Edelrwøn
4 Foucault and the Genealogy of Ethics
Jømes.D. Føubion
5 Relativism and Universalism
Richørd. A. Shwed.er
ó Anthropology and Ethics
Cørolyn Fluehr-Lobbnn
Part II Approaches
7 Cultural Values
Joel Robbins
8 Ordinary Ethics
Veenø Døs
vlll
I
I9
2T
37
49
67
85
103
rr5
tt7
I33
VI CONTENTS
9 Moral Sentiments
C. Jøson Throop
l0 Moral Reasoning
I(øren M. Syhes
I I Virtue
Thornøs Wid.loþ
12 Narratives
Jørrett Zigon
Part III Localities
13 Ethics and Piety
Søbø Møhrnood
14 Care and Disregard
Joã.0 Biehl
f 5 Mourning
Everett Tøehong Zhøng
Poverty
.' IIørri England.
17 Inequality
Cøroline HørnPhrey
I8 Sexuality
Støcy Leigh Pig
Part fV \4brlds
19 Religion and Morality
Michøel Lørnbeh
20 Charity
Jonøthøn Benthø,ll
2L Medicine
Ad.riønø Peilynø
22 Science
Michøel M. J. Fischer
23 Finance
I(øren Ho
24 Law
Cørol J. Greenhoøse
264
r50
r69
r8ó
204
22L
223
242
283
302
339
341
359
376
395
413
320
it
J
I
5
432
iCONTENTS
Part V Politics
25 Humanitarianism
Peter Redf.eld
26 lluman Rights
Mørk Good.øle
27 War
Cøtherinø Lutz ø.nd. I(øthleen Millør
28 Violence
Alexønd.er Hinton
29 Punishment
Roger Løncøster
30 Borders
Josiøb M. Heyru'øn ønd' Jobn Syrnons
Part VI Dialogues
3l Moral Philosophy
I(wøru.e Anthony Appiøb
32 Moral Psychology
Jørwes Døngøn ønd' Liøne Toung
33 Neuroethics
Møssirno Reichlin
34 Evolutionary and Cognitive Anthropology
Nico Iøs' Bøørnørd. ønd' D øn Sperb er
Ind.ex of Nømes
Subject Ind.ex
vtl
449
45r
468
482
500
519
540
559
5ór
578
595
óII
628
64r
Human Rights
Mørk, Good.øle
A tbeory free from illwsions cøn only conceite of harnøn pwrpose negøtiveþ.
Max Horkheimer, "Remarks on Philosophical Anthropology,"
re93 [1935]
How does the recent anthropology of human rights contribute to both the
anthropology of morality and the broader understànding of morality itselO This is the
question I will address. Anthropologists have found the ethnography of human rights
practices to be a fertile sourc.e of new ideas about the relationships between normativ-
ity, agency and social and political intentionality, in particular, and this essay examines
the implications of one of these ideas: that the practice of human rights has become a
new sphere of contested rnorøl practice in the contemporary world, one that is
essentially creative, contingent, and shadowed by the specter of tragedy.
The essay is structured as follows. In the next section, I locate the anthropology
of human rights within just enough historical context to make the observations in
the essay meaningful. Although the essay is not intended to survey the full history
of and ambiguities in the fraught relationship between anthropology and the posrwar
project of human rights, it is necessary to say something about the temporality
through which human rights has become a dominant contemporary logic of person-
hood and social and political change . I then establish the theoretical underpinnings
of the chapter by describing several conventional categories qf moral understanding
that are undermined by the anthropology of human rights, which leads to a radically
alternative account of normative self-makíng. Finally, I draw selectively from several
signal ethnographies to illustrate how a poetics of human rights as moral practice
reveals tragedy and possibility to be intimately connecred within the processes of
human rights diffusion and consolidation that anthropologists have been tracking
over the last 20 years.
A Compøøion to Morøl Anth.ropologl,Firsr Edirion. Edited by Didier Fassin.
@ 2012 John Wìley & Sons, Inc. Published 20L2 by'John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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ANrrrnopor-ocY AND rrrn Nnor.rBERAL Wonr'o On¡Bn'
After the end of the cold war, the institutions and rhetorics of human rights expanded
;;l;"".y. I' ttr" absence of alternativé frameworks for social and political change
and mo-ral i.n.*"1 with equal global reach and legitimacy, those of human rights
underwenr something of år','"fotheosis. The promulgation of 'new international
human rights instruments like ILO Ió9 (1989) - the international indigenous
peoples, bìll of rights - and the creation of new human rights judicial bodies like the
Inrernational Criminal Court (1995), were important signs of thé emerging releva¡ce
;il;;; õhts within the post-colá'*r. tr"r,rition. But the rêal transformative work
of hurnan rilht, took place when the institutions of international and transnational
developmenr were recónfìgured as moral agents of neoliberal subject-making'
If the eventual coalesceÃce of the "neoliberal world order" (Ferguson 200ó) was
marked by increasing disparities in global
from political economy, and the impositio
shock doctrine social policies on the "n
scope were also visible every time another
*o.krhop in a village at wh"t Hardt and Negri call the "capillary ends of : " contem-
porary.rãwo.k, oipower', (2000: 313 Here is where human rights was reinscribed
", " -o."1 vernacular par excellence for ction just at that moment
when'material conditions were worsening ially in the global South'
and the obligations of the welfare state wer by policies that promoted
economic selÊreliance, soçial autonomy, and skepticism about the public sphere'
--lil "*nr"pology of hrr,,'"r, rights - that is, the ethnography of the emergence of
human rights as the moral larrgo"=g. of neoliberalism - was less an intentional meth-'
odology ùr"r, " kind of halting recãgnition that a political and legal project that began
its life as ,,rhe last uropia" 1tvt"y"1OfO) was becoming something else entirely:,an
unpredictable logic foimoral Practice in t' That anthropolo-
gisìs observ"d this shift taking ilace in the s was not surprising'
îh. [mirr"l period after the end of the c a particular kind of
anxiety around the disjunctures between the promises of (neo)liberalism and the
pervasiveness of enduring vulnerabilities'
The ethnographic enãounter with the "anxiety of incompleteness" (Appadurai
2006) captured the ways in which the rhetoric'
relationship bètween moral identity, social actio
moral subjects increasingly came to see themse
over itselÉ (Cheah Zyúi - that is, as part of "humanity" - they were confronting
deepening material insecurities and the loss of traditional forums for legal and political
redr.rs. ùuch of the anthropology of human rights has examined this growing gap
between what might be called "expectations of universality" ànd the lived reality of
violence, ethnic discrimination, and political exclusion' I
And although the ethnographic account of disenchantm-ent has challenged a
dominant narrative in tfr. poit-.old war about the triumph of international law and
neoliberal governmentality, the implications for an anthropology of moral practice
have been less obvious. Tiris is in plrt due to the pervasive influence of sevcral con-
ventional assumptions about the relationship between morality and creative action'
470 MARKGooDALE
Lpcacrps or Mon¡r, MrsuNnBtsrANDrNG
Among its many unacknowledged implications, the recent anthropology of human
rights has provided empirical evidence for one of the more profound arguments in
Charles Taylor's seminal L989 Soørces of the Self. that the le gacy of much of Western
philosoþhy has left us with a nàrroq cramped, and ultimately wrong-headed account
of morality by defining it in terms of "what it is right to do" rather than "what it is
good to be" (1989: 3). For Taylor, "morality" is more productively deployed as way
to characterize and ideally understand the intersections of subject-making (and
unmaking) and normativity - those processes by which culturally flexible and often
ambiguous social categories both constrain and enable social action. This is not to say
that in Taylor's view the practices of morality dre entirely disconnected frorn outcome,
political action, or the instrumental development of standards of right conduct. But
for Taylor the key revision is to pull morality away from its historical linkages to both
rules and consequences and reattach it - as both a framework of analysis and descrip-
tion of human agency - to what he describes as "modern identity," the processes
through which the self emerges in relation to the social within particular historical
moments.
The essential insight here is the notion that morality itself should be understood as
a kind of social practice - rather than a description of one of several categories for
evaluating social practice - and that'it is a form of practice through which, and in
terms of.which, the subject is shaped; framed, and reframed. "Subjectivity," in this
sense, is neither entirely a social construct nor the outcome of any number of internal
conflicts over the nature and meaning of being (or, perhaps, being-there). Rather, it
is constituted by the tenuous inter linkages that connect the self with a matrix of
contested norms that make claims on people øs suclt and not as actors committed to a
particular course of action. As ethnographies have demonstrated, human rights have
become a significant category of contested norms and the practice of human rights
has become the means through which these norms atticulate a particular way of being,
not doing.
But if the practice of human rights has become a consequential type of moral
practice, this fact must be reconciled with another rooted and pervasive bias in Western
intellectual and political history. In the classical division of labor, human action is
understood as rationally purposive in relation to one of several Aristotelian virtues, the
most important of which for my purposes here is phronesis (Greek rpgòvqorç).
Phronesis is the capability and the willingness to self-evaluate action - or, we might
say practice - in terms of both prevailing social norms and desired ends. What makes
an archaeology of phronesis so critical as an ancestral influence on dominant concep-
tions of morality is that the vast range of everyday kinds of practice that it encom-
passes share one important thing in common: they do not, and cannot) produce
anything new. The essence of phronesis as a conception of modes of human action -
one that grounds the full specuum of purposive social practices (legal, politiêal,
economic, and, most important here, moral) - is the relationship between the norm,
rule, standard, social expectation, or principle and intentionality, which, for Aristotle
(in the Nicornøcheøn Ethics), is not a given trait of human nature but a result of a life-
time of experience in the world. In other words, for A¡istotle (and thus. for all later
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HUM-AN RIGHTS 47I
.theories shaped in one way or another by these foundational ethics), a person
performs - ,"ah., than embodies - phronesis over the course of a lifetime by shaping
acrion ro structurç in increasingly more sophisticated ways and with increasingly more
consequential results.
Phrånesis is the gold standard of ancient intellectual virtues - and thus an impor-
rant (if .rrrack ro*l.dged) part of the wellspring of many later theories of social,
po[tiàal, and móral "ctior, - precisely because it is a conception of modes of human
ãction that encomp"r, ,o -oih of the range of practices that are understood to be
essential to a well-functioning political and moral community. But phronesis is not a
virtue that is nieant to encompass all modes irf human action, especially those thait ø're
generative, capable of producing something new, something that Iies beyond the
irrl.s, ,ror.rrr, and principles that provide the templates for practical-action' For this we
"r. giu.r, - and thus must confront - another ancestral category: that of poiesis'
Pãiesis is the root virtue that gives birth to a legacy of assumptions about the social
role and dangers of human action that creates, that brings forth (whether from nothing
or otherwisej, that instantiates. Poiesis encomPasses a much narrower range of human
action. In fact, the scOpe of poetic action can become so narrow that generatiVity, cre-
ativity, and real production come to be seen as the domains of isolated geniuses or
oo,."r,r, those who are incapable of living within the constraining logics of existing
categories and who must thãrefore ^ct d.e nouo,with results that can span the range
from the revolUtionary to the destructive, from the flowering of transcendent art to
the creation of ideologies of human suffering. But as we will see below, a poetic
conception of human ãction is necessary for understanding the piactice of human
rights as a creative - that is, unpredictable, generative, potentially transformative -
practice of self-making.
Huu¡N Rrcnrs AND THB Porrrc SBr-r
The anthropology of human rights challenges the classic distinction between poiesis
and phronesis as Àodels of human action and suggests an alternative one that assumes
that ølI human action is capable of both real generativity and practical wisdom'
A cross-section of anthropological research on different aspects of contemporary
human rights practices (see note I) reveals the ways in which people self-(re)consti-
tute within ongoing struggles, conflicts, and moments of reparation in terms of norms
that demand both creative selÊreflection and practical deployment' That the ideas and
institutional structures of human rights have become increasingly hegemonic in
relation to existing and often opposing alternatives makes this essential creativity all
the more significant. And if it is true that the rhetoric of human rights has also become
the "archetypal language of democratic transition" (Wilson 200I: I), then the fact
that this language is poiticinthis sense has profound implications for political reorga-
nization aftãr conflict, resistance and the articulation of dissent, and the possibilities
for radical social change.
Indeed, it is here that I recover, in a sense , the usefulness of certain asPects of
poiesis ", " f."-.*ork for understanding moral practice, but without returning to the
basic distinction between .r."iiuity and purposive practical action that has obscured
the full implications of the growing body of ethnographic research on human rights'
472 MARKGooDALE
This reconditioned use ofpoiesis as an analytical device for understanding the practice
of human rights draws from the work of the ethical and social theorist John Wall,
whose critical study (2005) of Paul Ricoeur likewise examines the problem of the
relationship between creativity and normativity. Although Wall's purposes are quite
different - his study is both an intellectual history and philosophy of dominant under-
standings of moral practice from what he calls the "high Enlightenment" onward -
his re-examination of Ricoeur'ò "poetics of the will" providès several key insights for
a poetics of human rights as moral practice.
First, if for Wall "some ... human capability for creativity is ultimately presupposed
in moral life" (2005: 5), this capability is realized in ways that are crucially nonteleo-
logical - again, as against the "biased origins" of centuries of moral theory that
assumed that the essence of moral practice was the linkage between norm and
outcome.'As we will see, the practice of human rights reveals itself ai a kind of moral
practice that is irtdeed purposive, but in a quite different way. This is particularly
significant given that the formal institutional, discursive, and legal frameworks of
human rights in the contemporary world - transnational, international, and national,
ifnot "local" (see Goodale and Merry 2007) - areintenselg and multiply, teleological.2
Second, as Wall explains, Ricoeur's poetics of the will "imagines a moral world of
large and generous proportions," in part because creativity itself is so "large and
generous," indeed, excessive. So if a poetic account of human rights as moral practice
takes up Wall's observation that "we ffirrst cÍeate our moral world, even if we wish w.e
didn't haye to" (2005: 14; emphasis original), one implication is tlrat this particular
moral world is marked by different forms of exce3s: of rhetoric, of ambiguity, of
moments.of critical self-reflection, and of meaning. (Wall emphasizes the "excessive
creation of social meaning" through moral practice, but the anthropology of human
rights uncoverS practices that create and shape a broader range of forms of meaning.)
And finally, a poetics of human rights-as-moral practice that is inspired, in part, by
Wall's reconfìguration of Ricoeur's poetics of the will sees moral creativity as both the
capacity for, and practice of, selÊredescrþtiôn (see also Robinson and Rundell 1994).
That is to say, the kind of creativity revealed by the anthropology of human rights is of
a very specific kind; one that is itself quite at odds with the broader relevant intellectual
histories. Instead of creativity as a kind of su.igeneris fount from which issues ideas,
self-expressions, models of practice, etc., without precedent or even explanation - a
dominant account of creativity that is easy to caricature - human rights-as.moral
praclice is characterized by moments of critical self-engagement in relation to (b\t nzt
in terms of) moral expectations within existing social, religious, and political contexts.
The process of redescription within the practice of human rights is also, necessarily
(and quite anthropologically), a critical reflection on the social, but as.Á.gnes Heller
has observed, "the starting point of the moral attitude ... is'monological"' (1994:
5B). That is, although moral practice - including the practice of human rights - is also
obviously concerned with conditions of vulnerability in the world (Heller's particular
interest), it is important to distinguish between the social uses of moral practice and
moral practice it3elf. Again, as Heller argues, the "non-reciprocal character of the
initial moral gesture needs to be emphatically underlined" (58). As the anthropology
of human rights demonstrates) this "gesture," which redescribes the self and thus
creates something critically new, is at the heart of human rights practice in the
contemporary world.
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HUMÂN RIGHTS 473
To summarize to this point: the ethnography of the practice of human rights over .
the last 20 years has documented the contradictions and possibilities within what is an
emergeirt iomain of moral practice. This is a type of moral practice that is marked by
self-(ie)constitution in relation to - but not deiessarily in terms of - what cañ loosely
be d.escribed as norms: the rules, expectations, principles, and implicit understandings
that have classically preoccupied anthropologists of law, politics, and morality as much
as moral and political philosophers. In the post-cold war efa, this normative mélange
has in many pla.es been profoundly altered by the rapid transmission of human rights
discourse within t-r.* ,r.n"orks of institutions, legal forums, and what Keck and
' Sikkink (1998) have described as "activists beyond borders." As I have also suggestèd,
the bias toward the distinction between (potentially creative) practice on the one
hand, and; on the other, the practical wisdom that matches norms with desired
outcomes, has obscured what is in fact a much more interesting set of relätionships
between subject-making (and unmaking), norms) and purposeful action. within the
practice of human rights-as-moral practice, these relationships are shaped by tensions
ih", "r. particular to this key domain of the moral present. As the çxamples from the
ethnography ofhuman rights in the ¡ext two sections reveal, tragedy and contingency
are key among them,
Huu¡N Rrc¡ns AND THE Trrn¡s Tnncnorns
The practice of human rights-as-moral practice is shaped by tragedy in at least three
*"yr. tf it is true that máral practice is a fraught process of self-reflection through
which the self is cònfigured and reconfigured in socially and historically relevânt ways' '
then what happenS if there is a failure to create moral meaningl I don't mean a failure
as such, becaure the very nature of moral practice means that some meaning will be
created. But the broader logic and culture of human rights create something like a
moral imperative - not the àemand to think or act in terms of specific moral rules
directed àward specific ends, but the demand to self-constitute as a specific kind of
moral person.
In Malawi, this failure to self-constitute within the rigid exPectations of prevailing
conceptions of human rights norms - and thus this tragedy - was tÏe result of the
potitics of translatiorr, orLirtr"nslation. Malawian elites pushed for "human rights"
io be translated in the Chichewa language as uføla wøchibød'wid'we, which Harrt
Englund renders as "the freedom one is born with" (200ó: 5I). The problem with
this politicized rendering is that it excludes a fuller range of meanings of human
rights; including, ironically, meanings that are meant to exPress the basic fact that
hrrm"n rights are specific kinds of entitlements that people have simply by virtue of
being. Solhe -oral pr".tices of Malawians in t¡e era of human rights led to a kind of
misbegotten self-constitution through which people came to see themselves as bearers
of an amorphous but also unrestrained "freedom" that was expressed in ways that
elites and transnational aid workers constructed as un-Malawian, from unruly behavior
toward teachers in schools to the introduction of new clothing styles for wornen that
\Mere more revealing. And this tragic failure to create the kind of moral meaning
demanded by a more expansive rendering of "human rights" had other consequences'
In what Englund describes as "disempowerment through translation," poor
474 MARKGooDATE
Malawians - newly self-constituted as vaguely and unpredictably "free" - were as a
result not able to confront their conditions of vulnerability as moral actors entitled to
specific forms of redress and social reallocation by the state.
The second sense of tragedy that hovers over the practice of human rights-as-
moral practice is what might be described as the "tragic sense of self." This is an
analytical paraphrase from the work of the Basque intellectual Miguel de IJnamuno,
who explored in his Trøgic Sense of Life (1954 tl9I3l) the implications of what he
argued was tÏe central dilemma of our time: the struggle between a wisdom that
intuits - but does not know - that there is something beyond the individual (whether
immortality, or, better for my purposes, a global community interconnected by a
faith in human rights), and knowledge, which is what is left behind after the
methodological skepticism of the rationalist "takes away our fever by taking away our
[fe" ( f I0). And what is particularly tragic about this struggle is that it brings together
two opposing forces that are forever joined in batde , a battle that is itselfthe definition
of life for human beings now and thus inescapable. To paraphrase lJnamuno again,
faith and skeptical rationaliry are enemies, and because they are enemies they have
need of one another.3
. The ethnography of the practice of human rights reveals an isomorphic struggle,
one that takes place at the interface between the actually existing (re)constituting
moral self and the ideology of self that is intensely normative within human rights.
This tragic sense of self is the result of the impossibility to reconstitute morally in
terms of the entirely abstract conception of personhood that appears throughout
internatiorial law, but which is devoid of what lJnamuno would call "vitality." This is
the cosmopolitan self who. "for a few spells during the day... is [morally virtuous]
but, for the rest, ... has nothing in common with man" (1954: l16). Among other
implications, this struggle between the-cosmopolitan self of human rights, and the
creative and thus unpredictable reconstituting self within actual moral practice, estab-
lishes a sort of outer limit to the kinds of transformations that are possible through
the forms of human rights advocacy that emphasizes moral consciousness-raising
rather than direct political or legal action.
This tragic sense of self comes into particularly sharp relief through encounters
wit}r human rights that take place on a normative landscape in which collective iden-
tity and practice are firmly rooted. Shannon Speed's (2008) ethnography of this
struggle over the meaning of the self - including what we might call the "collective
self' - in the small villages of Chiapas during the Zapatista uprising reveals the ways
in which it is also shaped by the changing politicization of selfhood within different
historical morhents. She describes a deeply contested period in the late 1990s in
which multiple politicized and often ambiguous narratives of the self were in play
against a backdrop of the unpredictability of c(eative moral practice. Narratives
derived from existing workers and Mexican revolutionary ideology, earþ 1990s
human rights discourse (which emphasized individual autonomy and empowerment),
and mid- to late-I990s indigenous rights discourse (which emphasized the experi-
ence'of historical marginalization for abstract collectivities - the "indigenous"), were
combined in new and not always socially productive ways within a more organic and
local "shift in self-identification" through which people sought to recover yet another
sense ofself- a cultural one rooted in place and expressed through language (Speed
2008: I09-ll0). In the end, the neoliberal rendering of human'rights - which
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lly in
;hout
his is
rous]
)ther
I the
stab-
rugh
ising
ntcrs
den-
'this
ctive
ways
:rent
Js in
Play
.trves
990s
ent),
pen-
were
: and
rther
peed
'hich
HUMÂN RIGHTS 475
acknowledges the collective but only as a bracketed category of morally and legally
autonomous individuals - eventually either displaced, or incorporated, these other
narratives of self and social action. The result was that despite the fact that villagers in
Chiapas had "beg[un] to get oriented" and be aware of a new kind of "[moral] con-
sciousness'2 (1Il), their actual poetic moral practice within this era of human rights
was framed against what might be called (paraphrasing James Ferguson) "expecta-
tions of selfhood" that were both disciplinary and radically disconnected - as are all
cosmopolitanisms - from the local.
The final sense oftragedy uncovered by the recent anthropology ofhuman rights is
perhaps more obvious: the tragedy of human destruction that is a consequence of the
denial of humanness. The generative practice of human rights-as-moral practice is
shaped in particular ways when it takes place within a wider history tÏat is riven by the
tr".r-ut of conflict that touch on the very meaning ofwhat Giorgio Agambcn (1998)
described in a different context as "bare life" - life before, or excluded from, the
"qualified" categories of politics, cultural belonging, law. And this sense of tragedy is
in many ways coextensive with modern human rights itself: as I have explored else-
where (Goodale 2009),the origins of postwar human rights law, politics, and cultural
practice in the ashes of genocide continues to inflect everything from monitoring and
-."ror.-.rrt strategies (Merry 2009) to the search by international criminal courts
for what Clarke (2009) has called "fictions of justice."
But what I emphasize here is something different: the struggle to define, celebrate,
or destroy the broadest category of belonging - the "human" - in the face of what
Martha Nussbaurr.r (200I ) has called the "fragility of goodness." This was Nussbaum's
description for her own resolution of the contradictions underþing the ancestral
distinction berween poièsis and phronesis. As Wall éxplains, Nussbaum wante¿l to
disentangle our understanding. of moral life from its rigid association with both
normative expectations and outcomes by tempering the classical "sense of rationalistic
self-mastery with a poetic moral wisdom about human vulnerability, passivi¡y, and
dependence" (Wall 2005:70). For Nussbaum, in other words, a poetical conception
of moral practice was not just â way of recognizing that creativity was in the very fiber
ofmoral life and therefore fundamental to the (re)constitution of the self. Even more,
it was an acknowledgment of the fragile balance between the demand to create
meaning through moral practice and the possibility of a destructive unraveling when
the grounds of moral practice become unsustainable.
As Richard A. Wilson (200I) demonstrates in his ethnography of trauma and
reconstruction in South Africa, the tragedy of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC) was not so much that it became a technocratic "truth-making
machine" bureaucratically divorced from the lived experiences of political transition
and social reckoning; and nor was it even that the TRC took place before the
post-apartheid stare could fully ripen its legitimacy through a well-functioning regime
of law. Rather, the tragedy of the TRC was that, as the principal means through which
rhe "moral accounting of apartheid" (2001: 5ó) took place, it was institutionally and
perhaps historically incapable of accounting for the very thing that justified and
þ.rp.t,t"t.d apartheid: the social denial of humanness that is the precondition for
(mutual) moral comprehension across categories of difference. So even if the TRC
managed to establish at least some basic normative bright lines going forward, it did
nothing - or very little - to either confront the moral unraveling that apartheid
476 MARKGooDALE
represented or establish what Habermas called the "web of moral feelings" (1990:
47),that "community of moral subjects in dialogue" (McCarthy in Habermas 1990:
viii) that was a bulwark against the dark side of moral practice, a moral practice that
has succumbed to its own fragility.
CoxrrNcnNcy AND Nnol-rs RAL SsLr-MArqNc
As we have seen, tÏe classical account of morality (and normativity more generally)
that is shaped by the bias toward phronesis as the gold standard of moral virtues
suggests a specific relationship between norm and outcome and thus norm and
practice. To understand this relationship, and to able to act in terms of it in ttre face
of dilemmas both mundane and extraordinary, was) for A¡istotle , the essence of the
particular type ofwisdom that was the sine qua non of a rational and well-functioning
moral community. But as Wall (2005) explains, in his critique of both the distinction
between poiesis and phronesis and its multiple legacies, tÏe end of moral practice for
Aristotle was no more specifìc than the support of a well-ordered society. Within what
might be described as this vague teleology, multiple outcomes of moral decisiqns were
to be. expected, as long as they, taken together, reflected in practice the collective
seaich for the best possible outcome under the circumstances given prevailing
standards.
But the ethnography of human rights-as-moral practice has found something quite
ât odds with this conventionál framework for understanding the ways and means of
what Habermas. called the "sphere of everyday moral intuitions" (1990:. 55). The
practice of human rights is a kind of moral practice that is essentially creative, but
creative in a very specific way: what is created is both the capacity to reflect in new
ways on the self ønd,what emerges through this process of selÊ(re)constitution. Yet if
we return to Charles Taylor's (1989) suggestion that the relationship between moral
practice and selfhood should be understood in terms of "what it is good to be" rather
than "what it is good to do," we are left with an account of human rights pracçice
(again, as moral practice) that is radically contingent. Of course, as Kirsten Hastrup
(2007) has argued about creativity more generally, to reflect generatively - and thus
contingently - on the self is also to reflect on society.a Yet what results cannot be
measured in terms of specific forms of social or political action but rather in terms of
new understandings of the self - "what it is good to be" - within particular historical
moments that are themselves defined, in pa¡t, by forms of social and political action.
The contingency of human rights-as-moral practice createS n¡¡o lines of tension.
First, this kind of essential indeterminacy does not merely problematize what might
be called the ideology of human rights. It runs precisely counter to it. As I have
argued at length elsewhere (Goodale 2009), both the conceptual and the political
modes of human rights are intensely teleological: the idea of human rights opens up
axiomatically from one or more unproven/unprovable first principles and moves
through a set of ever more refined corollaries; all teétering on the tip of an inverted
analytical pyramid; and as a political . and legal framework that is fundamentally
utopian, human rights implies a narrowline of progress from the chaos of war and
genocide to the Kantian tranquility of a world marked by perpetual peace (see also
Winter 200ó; Hunt 2008; Moyn 20f 0). And second, the contingency of human
right
advo
legal
feelir
TI
were
Elin
enti¡
arity
Part
pub
the
ther
basi
the
cult
tron
the
and
B
soc
ofi
the
the
mo
rigi
Prc
wel
ma
co
co
l.É
in
to
rer
cr.
ttc
0:
0:
Iât
I
I
I
i
i
I
:
HUMr¡\N RIGHTS 477
rights practice complicates even the most sophisticated forms of human rights
uJuo."ãy and implemenration) despite the fact that in all of its social, political, and
legal dimensions, human rights is calculated to shape action - if not thought and
feeling - in almost baroquely articulated ways.
This is no more apparent than in the legal provisions and monitoring networks that
were created to realize the dream of women's rights through the Convention on tÏe
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Among the
entire corpus of international law, CEDAW best represents the elaborated disciplin-
arity of human rights râken to its logical conclusion. Its various articles require states
parties to the cönvention to "take all appropriate measures" at all levèls of society,
public and private, to transform both gender norms and gender practices to "ensure
the full development and advancement of women, for the Purpose of guaranteeing
them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a
basis of equalitywith men" (Art. 3). Article 5(a) outlines the breadth and intent of
the convention in a slightly different way: state parties shøll "modify the social and
cultural pøtterns of cond.uct of men and women) with a view to achieving the elimina-
tion of piejudices and customary and øll other prøctic¿swhich are based on the idea of
the inferiority or the superiority of eithèr of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men
and women" (emphases mine).s
Bur as Sally Engle Merry's (2006).study of the practices of CEDAW demonstrates
so clearly, the encounter with CEDAWs various provisions is permeated by moments
of indeterminacy, confusion, and the vagaries of perceived interest. Her case study of
the controversy over the Fijian customary practice of bwb.bu.lu within the CEDAW
monitoring system provides a sharp illustration of how the essential contingency at
the heart of the practice of human rights creates a space for what might be called
moral liberty at the same time as it frustrates the programmatic aspirations of human
rights advocates and institutions. Buløbøløis a way of describing a complicated social
pio..r, for rransforming conflicts in Fiji through a series of ritualized encountersbet-
ween parties to the conflict and the exchange of gifts. As Merry describes its various
manifestatio ns, bwlwbulw ís.
a formal in which the offender offers gifts such as a whale's tooth
and kero logy and seeks reconciliation with the victim ... It provides
reconcili or when an inferior has offended a superior .. ' it is still
frequently used to negotiate a peaceful relationship between kin groups after a marriage
by elopement ... [It] is.a practice of renegotiating relationships of inequaliry. (200ó:
r r8-r 19)
The traditions, narratives, and debates around baløbutu emerged as symbols of the
contingency ofhuman rights practice when Fiji's first report to CEDAWs monitoring
committee was presentedín20O2.In the report, the government criticized its own
legal system for accepting the reconciliation of bulubwluin cases of rape in particular,
in which fathers of victims were able to reach an accord with the families of perpetra-
tors before legal cases could even proceed. During the oral hearing on the country
report, the CEDAW committee focuSed on this part of the country report's self-
critiqrr. and made it the basis for its evaluation of Fiji's progress in a later set of
"concluding comments" (Merry 200ó: IIó). But in its response to the CEDAW
v)
es
rd
ce
)e
rg
)n
or
at
re
ge
rg
te
of
ìe
l-rt
w
if
'al
er
:e
rP
IS
)e
rf
al
t.
û.
rt
TC
al
rP
:s
,d
ly
d
ìo
n
478 MARKGooDALE
committee's rejection of bwløbulw as a form of conflict resolution and, a fortiori, a
social mechanism for reconciling parties affected by the crime of rape (whicþ include
the fathers of victims and perpetrators as much as the victims and perpetrators them-
selves), the Fijian government mounted a spirited defense of bølubølø as a "vital
custom of the Fijian community for reconciliation.and cementing kinship ties" (I L 5).
And while the government acknowledged that bulubwlø was not an aPProPriate
response to cases of rape, its assistant ministèr for women, in follow-up interviews
with Merry, argued that buløbwlø was more than anything a window into a cultural
universe in which reconciliation was an essential part of moral life. Without bøløbulø,
"society will fall apart"; and "eliminating bulubulu was impossible since it was the
basis of village life" (Merry 2006: lLó). Echoing the response to the shaping inten-
tions of human rights in Malawi that we have already seen, the assistant minister went
further and assailed the way that the focus on freedoms in women's rights legislation
has "persúaded women that they can do whatever they want, including dressing and
acting without sexual modesty," as Merry describes the minister's critique of the
"individualist human rights system" (Ll7).
Merry's subsequent research revealed that the controversy over bøløbwlø and the
CEDAW reporting process took place within a wider historical moment in which
etìnic relations had been politicized in particular ways and the multiple practices of
bulabølø had undergone shifts with the demise of rural life. This knowledge of the
broader social and political contexts in which çhe practice of human rights Fiji and
within the transnational monitoring networks of CEDAW took place merely deepens
the ethnographic insight into the contingency of human rights-as-moral ¡iractice.
.The point is notthat the moral lives of Fijians in rural villages would be any less
contingent were bwløbulø the only normative game in towtl; ratler, it is that the
disciplinary ways and means of humân rights are simply frustrated in ways that those
of bwfubulu - in whatever historical form - âre not. To make this point another way:
the ethnographic revelation that human rights-as-moral practice is essentially contin-
gent allows us to bracket the wider, and arguably neo-imperialist, aspirations of human
rights by recognizing their suuctural limitations. Of course not all such aspirations are
equal, and we might very well regret the fact that the universalizing morality of human
rights is destined to go off the rails when confronted with the "transformational
creativity" (Parkin 2001)of moral practice. But as the great symbolic anthropologist
Roy Wagner might have put it, cre ative moral practice is somethin gwe mwst do "íf we
are to live and preserve our mysteries" (1975:75).
CoNcr,usroN: Iluu¡¡q Rrcnrs AND THE'ANtunopor.ocv
OF THE MON¡¡, PNNSSNT
By way of conclusion, let me briefly restate the essay's main argumeàts and t}ten make
a plea for the importance of an anthropology of the moral present. The anthropology
of humair rights over the last 20 yeaís has documented the ways.in which human
rights has become the principal moral mode of neoliberalism. At the same time, the
globalization of the "collective self over itself" has taken place amid the deepening of
a range of structural vulnerabilities, including economic inequality, ethnic antipathies,
and the pervasiveness of neoliberal antipolitiés. It has been within these contradictions
or1, a
clude
hem-
'(vital
rrs).
)nate
views
Itural
bølw,
s the
nten-
lvent
ation
5 and
f the
I the
¿hich
:es of
'f the
i and
:Pens
¡ less
t the
:hose
way:
ntin-
tman
rs are
tman
ional
ogrst
if we
nake
'logy
man
, the
rg of
hies,
:rons
rhar anrhropologists have confronted the unpredictable moménts of self-constitution
that characte rize the practice of human rights-as-moral practice'
But the full imp[-ations of the anthropology of human rights for the broader
understanding of moral practice have beèn obscured by the legacies of several
Iongstanding conventionai assumptions about the relationship between morality and
political anJ social action on the one hand, and between morality and creativiry on
the other. Recenr critical scholarship in social and ethical theory forms the basis for an
alternative account of these relationships. Drawing on lohn Wall's reappraisal of
Ricoeur's poetics of the will, I made the argument for a poetical approach to the
practice of h.,-"n rights-as-moral practice that reorients self-making in relation to
purposirre pocial and political action. By recasting moral practice in terms of cate.gories
ãf 'L"h", it is good be " rather than "what it is good to do," it becomes possible to
appreciate the ways in which creative (and thus unpredictable) self-making, and not
instrument"l action, is at the heart of the practice ofhuman rights in the contemporary
world.
With what might be called a "poetics of the impossible" as a theoretical lens'
{ surveyed from the recent ethnography of human rights' which reveals the growing
gap between the ideology of human rights within international institutions and
áir"o,rrr. and the lived realities of people who are caught within spirals of despair and
misunderstanding. Anthropological studies of human rights further show that these
disjunctures are marked by tensions -which I describe as "tragedy" and "contingency" -
that are particular to these domains of moral practice.
The aÀthropology of the moral present has become more vital than ever' The close
ethnographic èncounter with modes of moral practice (such as the. practice of human
rightslin the'post-cold war reveals a troubling divergence: at the sarne time that
dãminant logiCs of self-making are becoming b"Þ more narrow and more trium-
phalist, the pãssibilities for structural change and the redistribution of power aré also
narrowing the "neoliberal world order" matures and encompasses new regions and
political Ãgimes. This makes it all the more necessary to Pay close attention to the
-i.ro-pr"*ices of self-making and moral agency, even if this kind of anthropology
does not temper the prevailing mood of disenchantment'
HUMAN RrcHrs 479
NOTES
I See, e.g., Wilson 2001; Slyomovics 2005; Englund 200ó; Merry 2006; Goodale and Merry
.2007;Tare2007; Speed 2008; clarke 2009; Goodale2009,n.d.ú; Deal 20I0; shaw et al.
20I0; Bornstein2012.
2 Just take the Preamble to rhe Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which makes
the international human rights system the instrumental foundation for achieving the inter-
related, but distinct, ends of "freedom, justice and peace in the world'"
3 Unamuno's elegant description of this existential conflict is worth qtrotiÍg -in etctens\l
,,Every position of permanent agreement or hatmony between reason and life, between
philosofhy and religion, becomes impossible. And the tragic history of human thought is
ri-pfy in. history of a struggle berween reason and life - reason bent on rationalizing life
^.rJ ior.ing it to submit to the inevitable, to mortality; life bent on vitalizing reason and
forcing it to serve as a suPPort for its-own vital desires" (1954: tf 5)'
4 Hastrup's piece is included in an important volume in the anthropological study of creativ-
ity (Hallam and Ingold 2007) which bears significantly on the wider study of human rights
480 MARK GooDArE
and moral creativity (Goodale n.d.ø). In ttris longer work, I depart criticall¡ but apprecia-
tivel5 from the main underlying theoretical assumption of the volume , namel¡ that creativ-
ity characterizes forms ofpraclice that take place apart from those "codes, rules, and norms"
that constitute the static backdrop ofthe social.
5 Lt http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvenrion.hrm, accessed Mar.
23,20L2.
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Presentation
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Article
Here I detail violence in South Sudan by first discussing a specific Dinka Agaar practice alongside existing discourses on the social aspects of violence and universal human rights, then I show how these acts had meaning and purpose using data from personal accounts of violence. I posit that the violence described was consistent with Dinka Agaar concepts of justice and basic human rights and that it cannot be judged against any universal human rights standard, devoid of local context or of an overarching metanarrative. These events highlight conflicting subjectivities, ethical norms, and the painful difficulties inherent to advocacy in areas of conflict. Viewed from the perspective of the larger social unit, it is easy to see how violence was required to end violence. However, witnessing punitive violence purposefully enacted on innocent individuals to achieve peace has the potential to create conflicting positions that modern anthropological discourse cannot reconcile.
Homo Søcer: Sovereign Power ønd. Børe Life
  • Giorgio Agâmben
Agâmben, Giorgio (1993) Homo Søcer: Sovereign Power ønd. Børe Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Feør of Srnøll Nømber¡: An Esøy on thø Geiryrøpby of Anger
  • Arjun Appadurai
Appadurai, Arjun (200ó) Feør of Srnøll Nømber¡: An Esøy on thø Geiryrøpby of Anger. Durham, NC: Duke Universiry Press.
Disqøieting Gifts: Hamønitøriønis¡n in Nøw Delhi
  • Erica Bornstein
Bornstein, Erica (2012) Disqøieting Gifts: Hamønitøriønis¡n in Nøw Delhi. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Fictions of Jøstice: The Internøtionøl Criminøl Coørt ønd. the Chøllenge of Løgøl Plørølism in Søb-Søbørøn Africø
  • Kamari Clarke
  • Maxine
Clarke, Kamari Maxine (2009) Fictions of Jøstice: The Internøtionøl Criminøl Coørt ønd. the Chøllenge of Løgøl Plørølism in Søb-Søbørøn Africø. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prisoners of Freed.om: fIørnøn.Rights ønd. the Afr'icøn Poor
  • Harri Englund
Englund, Harri (200ó) Prisoners of Freed.om: fIørnøn.Rights ønd. the Afr'icøn Poor. Be rkeley: University of California Press.