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The Cultural Politics of Human Rights
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  • Kate Nash, Goldsmiths, University of London
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Book description

How does culture make a difference to the realisation of human rights in Western states? It is only through cultural politics that human rights may become more than abstract moral ideals, protecting human beings from state violence and advancing protection from starvation and the social destruction of poverty. Using an innovative methodology, this book maps the emergent 'intermestic' human rights field within the US and UK in order to investigate detailed case studies of the cultural politics of human rights. Kate Nash researches how the authority to define human rights is being created within states as a result of international human rights commitments. Through comparative case studies, she explores how cultural politics is affecting state transformation today.


‘Against the narrow conventions of institutionalism, Kate Nash brings culture to the analysis of global human rights, just as she challenges its moralizing idealism with a refreshing dose of hard-headed, comparative sociology. A welcome intervention.’

Jeffrey C. Alexander - Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Yale University

‘The idea of a ‘human rights culture’ is widespread, but serious analysis of the cultural politics of human rights is rare. Kate Nash makes an important contribution by moving debates past simple oppositions of universalism to relativism and cosmopolitanism to nationalism. Her book should be read by activists, advocates and academics alike.’

Craig Calhoun - President, Social Science Research Council and University Professor of the Social Sciences, NYU

‘The author brilliantly shows us how laws need to wire themselves into the material and ideational practices of groups, societies, institutions, and imaginaries. Her particular focus for exploring this large question is the centrality of the cultures of a place and a time for making human rights effective. New laws need to be embedded. But it also means that even very old laws can be re-embedded in novel institutional and political settings and become effective.’

Saskia Sassen - Professor of Sociology, Columbia University and author of Territory, Authority, Rights

‘In this innovative study, Kate Nash asks the important questions about human rights theories that need urgent and coherent answers: if human rights are to be realised in practice, what conditions do they require? Against the conventional assumptions, she insists correctly that only through states are human rights enforced and realised. Against the conventional notion of ‘human rights culture’ as the condition by which rights are realised, she proposes the idea of ‘the cultural politics of human rights’ in order to capture the fact that ‘culture’ is always ambiguous and contested. Within this cultural framework, she provides an original insight into the struggle for rights in the US and the UK.’

Bryan S. Turner - editor of The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology

‘This stunningly original account of the 'intermestic' cultural politics of human rights casts well-worn debates in an entirely new light. No student of globalization, democracy, and law can afford to ignore Kate Nash’s perceptive comparative study of efforts to create 'cosmopolitan states from below'. A tour de force!’

Nancy Fraser - New School for Social Research

'… the research in this book is very well done, politically relevant, and essential reading for students of culture, globalization, politics and human rights. It is appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses and for an interested public.'

Source: Social Movement Studies

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