Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Cultural Diversity and Human Rights

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



DESCRIPTION This unit will explore the uses of an anthropological approach to deepen our understanding of human rights issues. The starting point is the Universalist/Relativist debate and the dilemmas it raises for the global enforcement of human rights. On the strength of various case studies, it will be argued that this is a false dichotomy and that the real usefulness of anthropology and other social sciences lies in the light it throws on the social life of rights by contextualizing formal descriptions of both he enforcement /and/ the violation of rights.

Various “non-Western” understandings of rights will be used as a standpoint from which to explore the ambiguities and paradoxes of “Western” human rights. The politics of human rights will also be focused on; since: “legal categories are not just a benign cognitive product of social imagination, but are also the operational concepts of institutions dedicated to violence, coercion and surveillance” (Wilson, R 1997). Keeping this in mind, we will explore how human rights are implicated in processes of neo-colonialism and globalization, focus on what is excluded from human rights discourse and examine the conditions in which rights are invoked. Finally we will assess recent attempts by UNESCO and others to develop a category of cultural rights which can cater for the problems faced by minority groups in the post-Cold War era.

Study-unit Aims:

To familiarise students with:
- the debates surrounding the universality of Human Rights and their global enforcement;
- various case studies and anthropological research as a prism to investigate the social aspect of human rights and contextualizing the enforcement as well as the violation of rights;
- the political aspect of human rights and their implications in processes of neo-colonialism and globalization;
- the discourse of and surrounding human rights and the conditions in which rights are invoked.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- participate effectively and expertly in the on-going debates surrounding the universality of Human Rights and their global enforcement;
- conceptualise culture and 'cultural rights' to the contemporary;
- critically reflect on human rights and the interplay between human rights and culture;
- identify and critically discuss the various ways in which human rights are invoked in pro and con debates (such as debates on FGM, early/temporary marriages, headscarf).

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- use course concepts in thinking and problem solving;
- contribute with critical reflections in major human rights debates and controversies that have been generated by anthropology and other social sciences;
- develop and evaluate various policy responses to apparent conflicts between cultural practices/values and human rights norms;
- identify qualitative research methods and tools in investigating the contexts of enforcement and violation of rights, discourse and conditions in which rights are invoked.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Cowan, Jane K., Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, and Richard A. Wilson, eds. Culture and rights: Anthropological perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Alston, Philip, and Ryan Goodman. International human rights. Oxford University Press, 2013.


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Jean-Paul Baldacchino
Jeanise Dalli
Reuben Grima
Ibtisam Sadegh (Co-ord.)
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.