Since the Sandinistas returned to power in Nicaragua in 2007, ideas about rights have been central to the governing party’s populist project. The rights in question are understood to require the production of ‘organized’ citizens, integrated into mechanisms of popular governance. But for rural Sandinistas who participated in the revolutionary agrarian reform of the 1980s, rights are about land; and for some, realizing rights has required disentangling themselves from local organs of organized life, resulting in their exclusion from the government’s populist model of rights. The contending ideas about how to legitimately ground rights that result—and the effort of these excluded Sandinistas to make revolutionary ‘struggle’ the basis of entitlements—trouble a standard anthropological model that views abstract rights as subsequently particularized in practice.
Populist and Peasant Conceptions of Entitlement in Rural Nicaragua
The Problem of Political Modernity in the Islamic World
Michael J. Thompson
This paper considers the roots of the dissonance between political modernity and Islamic societies. It argues that primacy has to be given to the analysis of different paradigms of 'ethical life' which are ways in which ethical-political categories are organized within society. A distinction is made between 'nomocentric' and 'rights-based' paradigms of ethical life, the former associated with a system of moral duties and the latter with a system of political and ethical rights accorded to the individual. I argue that the emphasis on a nomocentric paradigm of ethical life has the effect of suppressing the development of a rights-based ethical and political discourse in large enough segments of the society to limit a progressive change toward political modernity. I further analyze the ways in which forces of social and economic modernisation play a role in antagonizing the relation between modernity and the more traditional forms of ethical life which predominate in Islamic society and political/ethical thought.
Evenki Concerns Regarding the Proposed Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Pipeline
Gail Fondahl and Anna Sirina
Indigenous peoples' rights to a healthy environment and to be able to participate in decisions affecting their environment are increasingly recognized in Russian law. In this article we explore the case of the Evenki living at the north end of Lake Baikal, who are faced with the construction of an oil pipeline through their home-land. The Evenki perceive significant potential risks to their livelihoods and lifeways due to potential environmental degradation from the pipeline, risks that destabilize their substantive rights. They also express frustration over their inability to participate in the pipeline planning—their procedural rights to decision making are not being realized. While the pipeline project is currently stymied over environmental concerns, environmental and cultural justice concerns of indigenous peoples could pose considerable de jure obstacles to its future progress, given the pipeline construction company's disregard of indigenous rights.
Towards a Compatibilist View
That human rights are new, alien, and incompatible with African social and political reality is pervasive in much of African social and political thinking. This supposition is based on the assumption that African societies are inherently communitarian, and hence inconsiderate to the guaranteeing and safeguarding of individual human rights. However, I seek to dispel this essentialist notion in African social and political thinking. I consider how the human rights discourse could be reasonably understood in the African traditional context if the thinking that is salient in the African communitarian view of existence is properly understood. After considering the way in which human rights are guaranteed within an African communitarian framework, I give reasons why the quest for individualistic human rights in Afro-communitarian society could be considered to be an oxymoron. Overall, I seek to establish that an Afro-communitarian model is compatible with the quest for the universality of human rights.
An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights
A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.
Siseko H. Kumalo
The historical debate, in African philosophy, on personhood has been characterised by radical and moderate communitarianism seen through the scholarship of Menkiti (1984) and Gyekye (1997) and continues contemporarily with scholars considering its implications on contemporary conceptions of rights.
Responding to Chemhuru’s compatibilist view that, he maintains, safeguards and guarantees individual rights, I showcase how his conception of the community as prior to the individual betrays his project. Using the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to contextualise rights discourse in Afro-communitarianism, Chemhuru avers that once collective rights have been gained, individuals can claim their rights. I critique this position to suggest that Chemhuru undermines his own project of compatibilism through placing the community prior to the individual. Using the Civil Union Act (2006) as a legislative framework that safeguards and guarantees individual human rights, I test Chemhuru’s compatibilist view. I conclude by highlighting the divergences between constitutionalism and Afro-communitarianism.
The transnational construction of indigenous and human rights among Vietnam's Central Highlanders
In the context of the conflict-ridden relationship with the Vietnamese state and the growing transnational interference by their vociferous diaspora, this paper analyzes particular shifts in the framing of their rights. A notion of collective group rights that are by definition particularistic and exclusive has given way to individual rights (especially religious freedom) that are universal and inclusive. Simultaneously, a localized and communal emphasis has changed to a transnational one oriented toward international fora. Local interests and aspirations thus come to be framed as universal human rights that pertain to individuals, rather than local rights that pertain to collectives. In this light, recent attempts to theorize minority or indigenous rights appear to be ineffective and will probably be counter-productive.
Interactional Impacts on Claimants of Chinese Dibao
Jian Chen and Lichao Yang
The Chinese minimum living standard guarantee (dibao), which has been in place since the 1990s, is one of the most important social assistance programs run by the Chinese government. There is extensive literature on dibao, a majority of which deals with how it is allocated in rural communities and its effectiveness in alleviating rural poverty. Receiving dibao is often considered a sign of poverty. Scholars have long discussed the shame experienced by people in poverty. However, very few empirical studies have paid attention to the interplay between shame and dibao. This study draws on one month of qualitative fieldwork, focused on dibao implementation in both urban and rural China. It aims to understand how dibao and shame are connected in relation to three elements of policy provision: discretion, rights, and negotiation.
I make two main points in response to the two great articles on my book Freedom is Power: Liberty Through Political Representation (FIP) published in this issue of Theoria. First, I assess the power of ideas, especially vis-à-vis the important imperative to decolonise knowledge production, taking on board much of Boisen and Murray’s arguments while qualifying their tendency to overstate the case for the power of ideas. I then comment on Allsobrook’s criticism of my attempt in FIP to marry Foucault’s view of power with my genealogical account of needs. I take on board his main concern and then argue – all too briefly – that his alternative ‘rights recognition thesis’ fails to escape his own critique of my needs-based view of freedom as power aimed at overcoming domination.
Triumph of culture, troubles of anthropology
Culture has always been the defining feature and disciplinary asset of anthropology. Before the reflective conversations of the 1980s, anthropology had owned culture. In the aftermath of the "crisis of anthropology" came the expansion and augmentation of culture to disciplines, domains, and settings beyond anthropology. Culture is now present in every aspect of social life and it is possible to buy, sell, design, invent, market, perform, and circulate culture(s) individually or collectively in (in)tangible forms. With the expansion, "culture talk"—not always in benign variety—has also become the predominant mode of addressing citizenship, security, and even economy, which were conventionally considered to be distinct from culture. This article elucidates this expansive venture of culture from being a disciplinary analytical artifact to an authoritative arbiter of rights, difference, heritage, and style, and suggests "projects of culture" as an analytical tool to enter into the burdensome territory of culture today, without getting trapped in culture talk.