"Making Women's Human Rights in the Vernacular: Navigating the Culture/Rights Divide"

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Sally Merry Picture


Sally Engle Merry is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Law and Society Program at New York University. Her recent books include Colonizing Hawai‘i:  The Cultural Power of Law (Princeton University Press, 2000),  Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice (University of Chicago Press,  2006), and The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law between the Local and the Global (co-edited with Mark Goodale; Cambridge University Press, 2007). She is past president of the Law and Society Association and the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology and a member of the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association and of the Law and Society Association.  The Law and Society Association awarded her the Hurst Prize for Colonizing Hawai‘i in 2002 and the Kalven Prize for overall scholarly contributions to sociolegal scholarship in 2007.



   Women's human rights expose the conflict between culture and rights with particular force. However, a close analysis of the processes by which ideas of women's human rights are remade in the vernacular by NGOs in Peru, China, India, and the USA suggests that in practice, these differences are handled less by confrontation than by negotiation and translation. Instead of viewing human rights as a philosophy located on the cusp of culture and rights, it is preferable to see it as a form of social action. With this conception in mind, Professor Merry will discuss human rights in practice as an uneasy symbiosis of law and social movements. She will also talk about how these two forms of human rights activism can be complementary but also differ in approach, ideology, and strategy, in hopes that examining these differences wil provide a new perspective on the apparent opposition between culture and rights.