At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Toward a Critically Engaged Activist Research



In this article, I consider anthropology's engagement with human rights today. Through the lens of my experience in a case brought before the International Labor Organization by a community in Chiapas, Mexico, I consider the ethical, practical, and epistemological questions that arise in research defined by rights activism. I argue that the critical engagement brought about by activist research is both necessary and productive. Such research can contribute to transforming the discipline by addressing the politics of knowledge production and working to decolonize our research process. Rather than seeking to avoid or resolve the tensions inherent in anthropological research on human rights, activist research draws them to the fore, making them a productive part of the process. Finally, activist research allows us to merge cultural critique with political action to produce knowledge that is empirically grounded, theoretically valuable, and ethically viable.