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5 - The local relevance of human rights: a methodological approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2011

Koen De Feyter
Affiliation:
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
Stephan Parmentier
Affiliation:
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Christiane Timmerman
Affiliation:
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
George Ulrich
Affiliation:
Riga Graduate School of Law
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Summary

[H]uman rights is concerned with valuing each of us for what we are, and what we are is not just an autonomous, organic entity separate from everything around us but rather a self that is located – located in a family, a community, a nation, an ethnic group – and it is precisely through our circle of various belongings that we can flourish as persons, lead successful lives as human beings, and fulfil the promise of human rights.

Introduction

The universality of human rights has been a matter of analysis and debate since these rights were recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When addressing the relationship between human rights and local contexts, these debates have largely focused on the dilemma of universality versus cultural relativism. While human rights scholars and activists have actively engaged in promoting a greater understanding of the universal value of the principles of human rights, less attention has been paid to, on the one hand, examining how these rights become relevant to the most excluded individuals and communities and, on the other, assessing local participation in human rights development and elaboration. These largely neglected issues, however, have begun to be addressed and further explored by intellectuals from other disciplines, such as anthropology, whose contribution is central to ‘localising human rights’, a framework that seeks to enhance the protection of individuals and communities from the negative effects of global socio-economic trends.

The objective of this chapter is to outline a methodology for case study research projects designed to examine the localisation of human rights; that is, for research that looks at the use and relevance of human rights for changing realities of extreme poverty, social exclusion or marginalisation. More specifically, this chapter will offer an introduction on how the use of human rights by local communities can be researched. It will suggest methodological guidelines for examining experiences in which actors invoke human rights at the local level, as well as for recording and analysing the knowledge they acquire and the lessons they learn from those experiences.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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