Re: human rights

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 5 Dec 1994 13:35:24 CST

Re Michelle Golden's post and what it means to culturally contextualize
oppression -- analyzing the cultural context of oppression is not just
something that can be used to "justify" the oppression, it's also a necessary
preliminary to figuring out how to change the oppression; if you don't know
what the objected practice is connected to, you're not likely to be successful
in changing it, and even if you do change it you're likely to introduce all
kinds of effects that are not seen as desirable by either you or the people
involved. And a decent cultural analysis will also show that ends and means
ARE connected, and for outsiders to come in and unilaterally, by threat of
force or other means connect with state power, change a practice, creates a
context that leads to an us vs. them mentality that's going to
result in consequences that most of us would probably agree are undesireable
further down the line. On the other hand, I personally do not subscribe to the
notion that anthropologists necessarily have to be on the side of preservation
of "tradition" and the status quo -- I do think that there is sometimes a role
for outsiders to work _together_ with insiders of a particular group to create
social change -- it's ridiculous to think that cultures should somehow be
"pure" and free from outside influences -- most of human history is about
people mixing it up and learning from each other. I talked about some of these
problems lately in connection with discussions about female circumcision
(infibulation) in the Sudan with my class (they were reading Janice Boddy's
book _Wombs and Alien Spirits_). The students were able to see that their
initial reaction to the practice, that it was simply a result of "ignorance"
and would vanish if M.D.'s came in and told them not to do it,
didn't take into account the meanings Sudanese women attach to the practice
and how it is embedded in marriage practices and the other institutions and
practical strategies that are part of people's lives -- all of which must be
taken into account in any strategy for changing the practice, as some Sudanese
feminists are themselves trying to do.

Eve Pinsker