Thursday, March 19, 2009

CFP: "Health and the Productivity of Human Rights Discourses"

Call for Papers
Title: Health and the Productivity of Human Rights Discourses

Co-sponsor: Committee for Human Rights, American Anthropological Association

This panel brings together ethnographic and theoretical papers to examine the productivity of human rights discourse in the fields of public health, medicine, and anthropology. In our contemporary world, a discourse of health as a human right has played a central role in configuring humanitarian responses to disasters, economic inequality and poverty, and the differential burden of disease. It has also raised methodological, conceptual, and ethical challenges in the field of medical anthropology. We are interested in bringing together critical ethnographic examinations of the mobilization of human rights discourse in informing claims to health by communities, populations, and the state, as well as reflections on how human rights discourse has informed the knowledge and concepts of health and well-being in anthropology. In keeping with the theme of the AAA meetings, we hope to foster discussion about anthropology’s “ends”: how can anthropological modes of knowing inform and help shape responses to global differentials in well-being, health, and life chances that are lived and experienced locally? What critical reflections from the field of health can be brought to bear on the discourse of cultural relativism in anthropology, and what alternative frameworks might we generate from these reflections?

By focusing on the productivity of human rights discourse, this panel is particularly interested in the new directions, methods, and concepts that can inform and challenge discursive understandings of health, knowledge, and values. Such new directions may include exploring the instabilities of a language of rights in advancing claims to health, and how local concepts of health and well-being are conditioned by often invisible institutional failures as well as economic insecurity and emergent value systems. How are humanitarian interventions and large-scale public health initiatives informed by regimes of value? How are discourses of human rights enacted by the local to advance claims to health from the state, and how are subjects constituted through this discourse? In examining such interventions and claims predicated on “health as a human right”, what local and trans-local concepts of the human emerge? Refracting such questions back on our own discipline, this panel explores how the language of rights has informed our field’s knowledge production on health, our ethnographic engagements, and our stakes in normative projects.

Organizers: Clara Han and Robin Root

Please send a 250-word abstract to Robin Root ( and Clara Han ( by March 26.