Cultural Heritage in Transit: Intangible Rights as Human Rights

Cultural Heritage in Transit: Intangible Rights as Human Rights

Cultural Heritage in Transit: Intangible Rights as Human Rights

Cultural Heritage in Transit: Intangible Rights as Human Rights

Synopsis

Are human rights universal? The immediate response is "yes, of course." However, that simple affirmation assumes agreement about definitions of the "human" as well as what a human is entitled to under law, bringing us quickly to concepts such as freedom, property, and the inalienability of both. The assumption that we all mean the same things by these terms carries much political import, especially given that different communities (national, ethnic, religious, gendered) enact some of the most basic categories of human experience (self, home, freedom, sovereignty) differently. But whereas legal definitions often seek to eliminate ambiguity in order to define and protect the rights of humanity, ambiguity is in fact inherently human, especially in performances of heritage where the rights to sense, to imagine, and to claim cultural identities that resist circumscription are at play.

Cultural Heritage in Transit examines the intangibilities of human rights in the realm of heritage production, focusing not only on the ephemeral culture of those who perform it but also on the ambiguities present in the idea of cultural property in general--who claims it? who may use it? who should not but does? In this volume, folklorists, ethnologists, and anthropologists analyze the practice and performance of culture in particular contexts--including Roma wedding music, Trinidadian wining, Moroccan verbal art, and Neopagan rituals--in order to draw apart the social, political, and aesthetic materialities of heritage production, including inequities and hierarchies that did not exist before. The authors collectively craft theoretical frameworks to make sense of the ways the rights of nations interact with the rights of individuals and communities when the public value of artistic creations is constituted through international law.

Contributors : Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, Deborah Kapchan, Barbro Klein, Sabina Magliocco, Dorothy Noyes, Philip W. Scher, Carol Silverman.

Excerpt

Human rights. Are they universal?

Our immediate response is “yes, of course.” However that simple affirmation assumes agreement about definitions of the “human” as well as what a human is entitled to under law, bringing us quickly to concepts such as “freedom” “property in the person” and the “inalienability” of both.

The assumption that we all mean the same thing by these terms carries much political import, especially given the fact that different communities (national, ethnic, religious, gendered) enact some the most basic categories of human experience (self, home, freedom, sovereignty) differently. This is why when organizations such as the United Nations draft charters, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a great deal of time is spent choosing the language (Groth 2012). Indeed, in the very preamble of this document we find a key concept of the notion of rights as what is “inalienable” that is, unable to be separated from the self: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

There is a debate in political philosophy about what, if anything, is inalienable in the human being (Pateman 2002, 1988). The term is associated with “property in the person,” a concept that for much of American history was applied to free male subjects who (unlike slaves) owned first and foremost themselves as well as other alienable objects, including their wives and children (Pateman 1988). Personal freedoms were defined against the negative benchmark of human chattel. Thus defining the human as possessing “property in the person” assumes that one can do what one likes with that “property,” including alienating its own labor (a sovereign person can conceivably contract her- or himself into servitude). Carole Pateman thus calls . . .

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