Human rights are one of the most profound legacies of the 20th century, an attempt by politicians, policy makers, scholars, and humanitarians to erect obstacles against future state violence and other crimes against humanity. Over time, human rights have become a global phenomenon with unexpected outcomes and effects. Though developed by nations and transnational in scope, human rights ideas have been adapted and reworked in local contexts worldwide, becoming the object of as well as a resource for popular struggle, state policymaking, and transnational movements. All of this makes human rights a perfect object of anthropological inquiry: human rights are at once a global force and a set of resources that find distinct expressions in a variety of local settings. This course examines the historical origins and expansion of human rights thinking, and the impacts this has had on national formations, local contexts and individual subjectivities. It explores the various ways in which anthropologists have studied human rights and their specific contribution to this interdisciplinary field of study. Students will become familiar with classic ethnographies of human rights struggles in local contexts as well as more recent ones that examine the global institutions and transnational networks via which human rights are produced.
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