Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Anthropological Perspectives on Human Rights

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Anthropological Sciences

DESCRIPTION This unit aims to explore various ways of studying human rights from anthropological perspectives and in the process to explore the parallel and at times intersecting trajectories of legal and anthropological discourses on human rights. While law and anthropology appear to be mutually implicated in current controversies surrounding the politics of recognition, it is often lawyers who wish to give normative value to the anthropological concept of culture and anthropologists who invoke liberal universalism to resist such attempts. This predicament is made even more challenging as it is becoming more and more difficult to insulate scholarly anthropological debate about how to conceive of culture from popular concern and political rhetoric concerning such matters as the rise of political Islam, the rights of immigrants and minorities and the validity of pursuing “Asian” or “African” modes of conceptualizing human rights. This unit will attempt to move beyond the discursive impasse between lawyers and anthropologists by arguing that this impasse reflects the poorly developed state of legal anthropology. This has led to the progressive removal of the normative element from anthropological definitions of culture and also left anthropologists with a crude and unrealistic understanding of the relationship between epistemological definition and legal codification. A more complex anthropological engagement with legal discourse will be proposed as a fundamental requisite in order to facilitate a re-formulation of human rights which takes culture seriously. In the process, students will be encouraged to develop their own perspectives on these issues.

Reading List

- Alston, P. Goodman, R. & Steiner, H. J. International Human
- Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals (2007) Oxford University Press; Okin, S. M. “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Boston Review (1999):;
- Mamdani, Mahmood, ed. Beyond Rights Talk and Culture Talk: Comparative Essays on the Politics of Rights and Culture (2000), New York: St. Martin's Press; Wilson, R.A. Human Rights, Culture and - Context (1997), Pluto Press; - Wilson, R. A. and Mitchell, J. Human Rights in Global Perspective: Anthropological Studies of Rights, Claims and Entitlements (2003), Routledge; Cowan, J. Dembour, M.B. & - - Wilson, R.A. Culture and Rights (2001), Cambridge University Press; Carnegie Council, “Cultural Rights”, Human Rights Dialogue. Series 2, No.12 (2005):


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Jean-Paul Baldacchino
Jeanise Dalli
Daniela DeBono
Ibtisam Sadegh
Paul Sant Cassia
David E. Zammit

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.