Transnational human rights and local activism: Mapping the middle

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    How do transnational ideas such as human rights approaches to violence against women become meaningful in local social settings? How do they move across the gap between a cosmopolitan awareness of human rights and local sociocultural understandings of gender and family? Intermediaries such as community leaders, nongovernmental organization participants, and social movement activists play a critical role in translating ideas from the global arena down and from local arenas up. These are people who understand both the worlds of transnational human rights and local cultural practices and who can look both ways. They are powerful in that they serve as knowledge brokers between culturally distinct social worlds, but they are also vulnerable to manipulation and subversion by states and communities. In this article, I theorize the process of translation and argue that anthropological analysis of translators helps to explain how human rights ideas and interventions circulate around the world and transform social life. This chapter first appeared as an article in the American Anthropologist in 2006; see volume 108(1), at pages 38-51. I am grateful to the Cultural Anthropology Program and Law and Social Sciences Program, National Science Foundation, BCS-9904441, for support for this research. I am also grateful for research support from Wellesley College and the Mellon New Directions Fellowship. I also benefited from a fellowship year at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School, Harvard University. Mark Goodale, Richard Rottenburg, and Aradhana Anu Sharma provided helpful comments on an earlier draft. Reproduced with permission of the American Anthropological Association from American Anthropologist, Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 38-51, March 2006. Not for sale or further reproduction.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationDialogues on Human Rights and Legal Pluralism
    PublisherSpringer Netherlands
    Number of pages22
    ISBN (Electronic)9789400747104
    ISBN (Print)9789400747098
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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