Culture: Anthropology's Old Vice or International Law's New Virtue?

October, 1999

As an anthropologist new to the field of international law and one who has been asked to address the theme of "culture," I find myself in an ambivalent position . As I have elaborated elsewhere, anthropologists have been quite hostile to the concept of culture in the past two decades, whereas in other disciplinary fields it has been embraced quite enthusiastically. In international law, in particular, the concept of culture is very much alive and appears to be performing an ever-greater amount of work. As an anthropologist, I am disturbed by rhetorical deployments of culture as a noun-something that can be recognized, enjoyed, possessed, maintained, disseminated and preserved, according to the major human rights covenants-but nonetheless am intrigued by the political possibilities afforded by affirmations of culture and its value in international law.

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