Re: human rights

Michelle B. Golden (mgolden@UNIX.CC.EMORY.EDU)
Tue, 6 Dec 1994 12:28:08 -0500

Greetings, all.

I've been thinking about Mike Lieber's suggestion that we discuss the
role of anthropology with regard to potential impact on public policy.
Luis Medina's post, in which he brings up two very important points (at
least), offers an excellent point of departure for this discussion (Thank
you, Luis!!):

1. Why do we study what we study? Why are we talking about the Yanamamo
and the Sudanese rather than focusing on our own society? And when we so
work within our own society, why do we tend to focus on the cultures of
those who are targets of racism, sexism, classism, etc rather than on the
culture that supports (for example) white privilege, male privilege, and

In my original post, I mentioned the Americanist anthropology panel
("Americanist anthropology
as if race, class and gender really mattered"). That panel included
anthropologists working with an understanding of larger social structures
in the US. They challenged, for example, the notion of the "culture of
poverty" as it is represented in underclass theory which focuses on poor
people's supposed deficiencies rather than the societal structures that
create poverty.

While I *personally* find work within the U.S. the most potentially useful
with regard to promoting positive social change, I recognize that many
anthropologists choose to work outside the US for some very valid
reasons. A global perspective is very important, and will become even
more so in the years to come (as multinational corporations grow even
larger, for example).

I suggest that those of us who are interested in the
connection between larger political/social issues and our work ask
ourselves how and why we choose our subjects, and where we personally are
located (as academics, and in terms of race, gender, class, nationality,
etc) in relationship to them.

2. This brings me to Luis' second point, that in considering these issues,
anthropologists start with ourselves. What frameworks have we used in
studying those we study, and why? If we begin with an (even unconscious)
belief that we are "more civilized" than those we study, how can we
expect to affect positive change?

So, with regard to moving into a discussion of anthros impacting public
policy, I'm interested in hearing about what people who are interested in
affecting public policy or other change are focusing on in their work,
and why. This is not only a discussion about what we might do to impact
systems outside of academia, it is also an excellent opportunity for
reflection on our work and anthropology as a discipline. It's also an
opportunity for us to learn from and challenge each other.


PS A tangent, but an important one: I think it was Mike Lieber who
brought up the fact that Indian women marched against sati, in re: my
comment that the British used sati as an example of the "savagery" and
unfitness for self-rule of Indians (pardon the grammar).By using
colonialist arguments against sati, the British created a dilemma for
those who stood at the intersection of race/nationality and gender
oppression (Indian women, though that group is not homogeneous with
regard to race or caste, so I oversimplify for the sake of making a
point. Apologies). When gender or any other oppression is used to justify
colonial domination, those at the intersection face a double barrier to
fighting that oppression. They face a double-bind--if they march, they
may be accused of lack of loyalty to their country, when they don't
protest (or resist in other ways), their perceived compliance is used as
further proof of their people's savagery.

The Indian women's movement existed within this context. Their work
(especially before self-rule) was very complex, and still they
protested--both sati and colonialism.

Maybe food for thought about the intersections of gender and