Deakin University

File(s) under permanent embargo

Under western eyes again: rights vernacular and the gender culture 'clash'

journal contribution
posted on 2013-01-01, 00:00 authored by Maree PardyMaree Pardy
Gender features prominently in debates about the clash between human rights and culture, where ‘culture’ is often portrayed as a supreme obstacle to the realisation of women’s rights. Sometimes framed as an ethical conundrum between universalism and cultural relativism, the clash between culture and rights recites one as always and inevitably undercutting the other — culture undermines rights, and the imposition of human rights damages culture. An innovative attempt at recasting this clash has been a focus less on abstract philosophical debates and more on the cultural politics of rights — in particular, how they are made relevant to everyday life. Anthropologists Merry (2006; 2008a) and Levitt and Merry (2009; 2011) propose the analytical and ethnographic study of vernacularisation by demonstrating how, in local contexts, women’s human rights are remade in the vernacular. This approach has yielded rich knowledge about the myriad ways in which expectations of female inferiority and masculine entitlement to violence are contested — not through the import of Western ideas of human rights, but through the local idiom. This article considers the productive contribution of vernacularisation to this contested terrain, while also pointing to the limits that issue from its dependence on distinguishing the global from the local. Today, these two spaces are not so clearly discerned — particularly in multicultural settings where the local and the global are fused, and where human rights are translated into a vernacular of current political anxieties to do with racial and cultural difference. This is a vernacular that disguises or disavows racism through the language of human rights. These themes are illustrated and explored through the case study of a small community event in an outer suburb of Melbourne, where gender, culture and religion play out through both local and international rights vernacular.



Australian journal of human rights






Chatswood, N.S.W.





Publication classification

C Journal article, C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2013, Australian Human Rights Centre UNSW Law




LexisNexis Butterworths