Human Rights and Heritage Ethics

By Meskell, Lynn | Anthropological Quarterly, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Human Rights and Heritage Ethics


Meskell, Lynn, Anthropological Quarterly


Abstract

This paper discusses the efficacy of applying a framework of universal human rights to resolve heritage conflicts. It considers the pitfalls and potentials in particular heritage settings for both archaeologists and the constituencies we seek to represent. A distinction is made throughout the paper between invoking universal human rights, as opposed to other rights or claims more broadly. Specifically, I ask what does the mantle of universal human rights bring to heritage? What additional work might it perform, and who wins and loses when archaeologists elevate cultural heritage to this arena of urgency? If archaeologists want to pursue this route, what steps might they take to be conversant with human rights and, more importantly, effective in practically implementing that knowledge? I then describe the situation in post-apartheid South Africa-a nation that has arguably crafted the world's most liberal constitution, yet in reality faces numerous challenges to instrumentalizing human rights. In terms of South African heritage rights, the archaeological site of Thulamela is offered as an example of conflict resolution at the local level by briefly examining the role of archaeologists and several connected communities each vying for access and ownership of the site. Following Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum I suggest that heritage practitioners might be more effective and ethically responsible by being attendant to pragmatic approaches that enhance human capabilities and human flourishing. [Keywords: Heritage ethics, human rights, heritage rights, claims, South African Archaeology, politics, fieldwork]

Forty years ago, UNESCO held a conference entitled Cultural Rights as Human Rights (UNESCO 1970) to reflect on the evolution of the concept of cultural rights in the twenty years since the proclamation in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Luminaries including Ernest Gellner, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Breyten Breytenbach debated a now familiar set of subjects: the place of culture and tradition, group rights versus individual rights, the role of the state, and so on. Among the primary concerns were peace, the eradication of poverty, global development, the hegemony of the nation state, international intervention, freedom of media and artistic life, and education in science and technology. Looking back over this remarkably forward-thinking document is both inspiring and sobering. Ostensibly they were having the same conversation in 1968 as many of us are engaged in now. The critical failures they addressed then, understandably, have not been resolved. But what has changed is the astounding upsurge in " rights talk" and the desire to harness the urgency of human rights discourse in so many aspects of human, animal and planetary existence.

International human rights have become today's lingua franca, speaking to issues of inequality, injustice, and politics in their broadest terms (Stacy 2009). The discourse of human rights is everywhere, a pervasive and thick stratum that overlays our understandings of nationalisms and internationalisms, indigenous movements, historic repressions, and global inequities. Archaeology is no different, and one recent volume suggests that heritage and human rights are inextricably linked (Silverman and Fairchild Ruggles 2008a). However, a danger exists, in that the call for "human rights" has been so extensive as to dilute the very power and specificity of those fundamental rights as opposed to other types of claims. Before archaeologists assume that instigating human rights petitions over cultural heritage offers a pragmatic way forward to resolve heritage conflicts, it is certainly worth pausing to consider the potentials and limitations of such an approach. This discussion then revolves around two related issues. First, I consider whether heritage conflicts represent an impingement upon human rights specifically; and second, whether an appeal to an international legislative framework offers the most pragmatic way forward for affected communities. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Human Rights and Heritage Ethics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.