Radical Cultural Relativism

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Culture is often defined as a group’s ‘set of contested signs and practices that are historically and socially situated” (Nagengast 1997: 400) or as a “shared system of values, and symbols” that are passed on from one generation to another. (Stavenhagen 2001:89) It is, for anthropology, “a total way of life”, defining the social boundaries that distinguish one group member from another (Stavenhagen 2001:90). Every individual is born into a culture, and participation in cultural life is considered a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 22 of UDHR (UDHR) also states that cultural rights are indispensible to human dignity.

At the same time, the diversity of cultural practices has been traditionally seen as
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At its extreme ends, radical cultural relativism states that rights are sourced from culture, while radical universalism holds that rights are universally applicable to everyone regardless of culture (Donnelly, 1984: 400). Relativism argues that differences in cultures cannot be judged by an external standard such as human rights, and that each society carries within it internal rules and values (Zechenter, 1997: 324). The American Anthropology Association (AAA) released a statement 1947 that promoted a relativist position when it rejected the notion of a rights system claiming ‘world-wide applicability’. For the AAA, a universal system based on Western values renders all other cultures inferior, and that a universal notion of rights should be based instead on the rights of people to live ‘in terms of their own traditions’ (AAA,…show more content…
It can also transform the standards and practice of human rights, as well as function as a lens to see how this happens, or fails to do so. Zwart (2012) states that local mechanisms can act as receptors that connect to human rights standards. Messer (1997) advocates looking for cross-cultural precedents and approaches to human rights, emphasizing similarities of human rights concepts across cultures. These approaches assume that aside from the Western liberal tradition, other cultures have local mechanisms that are similar to and can be merged with international human rights
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