Building on a critical, theoretical approach outlined in Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives (Cowan et al. 2001a), I posit rights processes as complex and contradictory: Both enabling and constraining, they produce new subjectivities and social relations and entail unintended consequences. To encourage interdisciplinary engagement on these themes, I explore selected texts that consider the relationship between culture and rights, addressing two literatures: (1) debates on culture, rights, and recognition in the context of multiculturalism among political philosophers and (2) an emerging literature by anthropologists, feminists, critical legal scholars, and engaged practitioners analyzing empirical cases. Although political philosophers elucidate ethical implications and clarify political projects, an outmoded arsenal of theoretical concepts of “culture,”“society,” and “the individual” has hampered their debates. When accounts are both theoretically informed and empirically grounded, contradictions, ambiguities, and impasses of culture and rights are more fully explored and the liberal model of rights and multiculturalism is more open to interrogation.
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