Article Review: Several Readings to Discuss 1 General Opinion Issue or Similarity

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¶ … universality of the Western interpretation of human rights.

In Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus edited by Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim (1992), the articles are mostly concerned with reworking the notion of human rights in an effort to achieve consensus on a 'new,' 'more universal' (or cosmopolitan) view of human rights, as "the lack or insufficiency of cultural legitimacy of human rights standards is one of the main underlying causes of violations of those standards" (1992, p. 19). Subsequently recognizing the fact that the prominent view of human rights is a Western one, an-Naim points out that, over the course of history, groups in power (or dominant classes within a society) typically uphold views and perspectives of cultural values and norms that are supportive of their own welfare, declaring these values to be the only legitimate view of that culture (1992). Further, an-Naim (1992) argues that, even though the West may have the honorable intention of supporting whatever dominated and oppressed society is under its question, when it maintains that it understands the legitimate perspective of the culture of the society, the West cannot support the society effectively; for this view "portrays [these societies] as agents of an alien culture, thereby frustrating their efforts to attain legitimacy for their view of the values and norms of their society" (1992, p. 20).

Likewise, Gustavo Lins Ribeiro (2007), in "Cultural Diversity as a Global Discourse," argues that, given their positions of hegemony in the modern world, Western and Eurocentric formulations of human rights have stifled other angles. He further argues that "it was Europe's centrality in the world system that allowed modern European ethnocentrism to pretend to be universal" (2007, p. 9). The Western notion of human rights can thus become a "great priority for policy makers interested in conflict resolution or development initiatives" instead of a truly universal pursuit, devoid of ulterior motives (Ribeiro, 2007, pp. 8-9).

To illustrate European or Western hegemony over cultural standards, Ribeiro (2007) dedicates a large part of his text to World Heritage. As World Heritage Status is given to 'things' with 'outstanding universal value,' the discourse of World Heritage is exclusionary (Ribeiro, 2007). "Outstanding universal value' defines what (in reality, who) is universal and deserves to be a part of the world heritage, i.e. what/who transcends the confinement of locality and is capable of being admired by others in a global symbolic economy" (Ribeiro, 2007, pp. 5-6).

Quite unlike the previous two readings, however, "Brazilian Feminism and the State in Regards to Gender Equality in the 2000s" by Lia Zanotta Machado (YEAR) recalls the history of Brazilian Feminism and how it has progressed to the present day. Most important to Machado is the feminist movement's drive to get their hands into the agenda of public policy, and indeed, by the current century, the feminist movement in Brazil has gained so much power that it currently holds a position in the presidential ministry, playing an important informational role in policy (Machado,-YEAR). While this particular article is not, at the surface-level, related the previous two, a parallel can be drawn between 'where' the Brazilian feminists 'went' (their beginnings as a disorganized movement to prominent political actors) and 'where' the cosmopolitan authors of the previous readings want to 'go' (toward a new, 'diversal' conception of human rights, assumingly). Machado's piece also shows how a group of individuals -- feminists -- worked to affect significant change to a centuries-old paradigm of male domination. This effort can be thought of as directly analogous to what the future of cosmopolitanism will (hopefully) look like.

Group 2

In "The Many Faces of Cosmo-polis: Border Thinking and Critical Cosmopolitanism," Walter D. Mignolo (2000) seeks to explore cosmopolitanism in relation to globalization, capitalism, and modernity. Mignolo defines globalization as "a set of designs to manage the world" and cosmopolitanism as "a set of projects toward planetary conviviality" (2000, p. 721). Global designs are imperial in nature and are indicators of modernity (Mignolo, 2000). Their goal is to control and homogenize (Mignolo, 2000). Cosmopolitan projects, Mignolo offers, provide critical perspective on periods of globalization, or the emergence of different global designs (2000). On the other hand, they can compliment global designs.

However, cosmopolitan projects have always originated and existed within modernity and have thus never escaped "the ideological frame imposed by global designs themselves" (Mignolo, 2000, p. 724). As such, Mignolo distinguishes two types of cosmopolitanism: cosmopolitanism from the perspective of modernity and critical cosmopolitanism from the exteriority (those not yet integrated) of modernity (2000). Given this information, Mignolo (2000) explores historical moments that define the characteristics of the modern world and shows how the question of rights has always hindered cosmopolitan projects.

The three historical moments that define the characteristics of the modern world while 'forcing' concepts of cosmopolitanism to emerge, according to Mignolo (2000), are the instances of the Spanish Empire and Portuguese colonialism, during which prominent thinkers (Vitoria, specifically) were forced to consider the rights existing outside the realm of Christianity (the then-current global system); the British empire and French and German colonialism, during which prominent thinkers (Kant, specifically) were forced to do the same thing as did those in the 16th Century, but this time under the global system of the 'nation;' and U.S. imperialism, as a "universal conception" of human rights is now accepted, but in actuality, is a Western concept, forcing a cosmopolitan response.

In essence, this essay strives to address first that cosmopolitanism, as it has mostly existed, is a Western occurrence, and thus, not necessarily 'cosmopolitan' at all. Mignolo (2000) thus argues for a 'critical cosmopolitanism' that is seen from a 'border perspective.' He also argues that cultural relativism is a valid concept, in some way, but that the universal conception of human rights is in itself a statement that the West decides what human rights are (2000). Cultural relativism, in another sense, does not work, because it is, in itself, indicative of preferring a specific culture (Mignolo, 2000). In this sense, the term is redundant. Further, if modernity is characterized by powers of colonialism, the West will always, in a sense, rule, and 'decide' human rights (Mignolo, 2000). This seems unjust. Mignolo suggests "diversality" as a potential solution: "a universal and cosmopolitan project in which everyone participates instead of 'being participated'" (2000, p. 744). While he never explicitly states the definition of "diversality," it seems as if he is referring to some organic system that does not currently exist 'within' the Western paradigm -- or any paradigm, for that matter -- that has the power to 'unite' people (this system would represent a form of critical cosmopolitanism) under some system that is "democratic [and] just...as far as democracy and justice are detached from their 'fundamental' European heritage" (2000, 743).

In essence, Mignolo wants those outside the West to be connected to those in the West, thus increasing their rights, but not connected by inclusion. Rather, those excluded by the West, and the West itself, should be connected by diversality. In this merging act, Mignolo says, basically, that the West will be transformed into something 'not-West.' "Imagine Western civilization as a large circle with a series of satellite circles intersecting the larger one but disconnected from each other, diversality will be the project that connects the diverse subaltern satellites appropriating and transforming Western global designs" (Mignolo, 2000, p. 745).

Group 3

Systems, struggles and processes of attempting to quell the tide of human rights issues thread the readings of Group Three together. However, not all the readings agree on the appropriateness of the Western human rights regime to address these issues; one regards it highly, one is dedicated to questioning its legitimacy, and the last retains a fairly neutral view, offering both sides of the Western human rights / cultural sensitivity coin.

In Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice by Sally Engle Merry (2006) examines, in an obviously pro-Western notion of human rights stance, the CEDAW, and how it deals with human rights on an international level. The CEDAW is a United Nations convention that is monitored by a treaty body which is, at its basic level, an international bill of rights for women (Merry, 2006). While the CEDAW is a "law without sanctions" and thus can do nothing in the way of punishment, it does such important cultural work as articulating "principles of gender equality and state responsibility" and demonstrating "how they apply to the countries under scrutiny;" additionally, it "fosters new understandings of gender and violence" (2006, pp. 70-71). Moreover, the experts at the CEDAW are apt to perceive culture as hindrances to women's human rights (Merry, 2006). Merry's (2006) article further goes on to claim that the human rights system, because of its foundations in international consensus building, is important because it "differs from many prevailing practices and it is internationally legitimate. Thus, it often challenges religious, customary, and national conceptions" (2006, p. 90).

In an anthology titled Race, Gender, and Class in Criminology: The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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