autumn 2017

SOA-2008 Minorities, Culture and Human Rights - 10 ECTS

Sist endret: 21.02.2019

The course is provided by

Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education


Tromsø |

Application deadline

Applicants from Nordic countries: 1 June for the autumn semester and 1 December for the spring semester.

Exchange students and Fulbright students: 1 October for the spring semester and 15 April for the autumn semester.

Type of course

The course can be taken as a singular course.

Admission requirements

Application code (for Nordic students): 9199

Course content

Cultural relativism, a key anthropological concept, holds that right and wrong are defined from within a cultural context and that it is not possible to develop moral principles that apply to all cultures and all situations. From this perspective, the notion of universal human rights, which apply in the same way to every human being, can be seen as an imposition of "western" values and standards upon the world. Anthropological debates about universalism vs cultural relativism have become more nuanced and sophisticated in recent decades. The relationship between collective and individual rights has also been an important focus. Anthropologists have applied the hallmark method of the discipline - long-term fieldwork and participant observation - to deepen understanding of the meaning of human rights at local, national, and international levels. Some have also engaged in activist research with communities, joining them in local and global struggles for minority rights.

This course will trace the anthropological debates about Human Rights, looking at theoretical concepts, juridical frameworks and international norms. We will discuss methodological approaches to the study of human rights and related ethical issues. The emphasis will be on minority rights, including indigenous peoples, national minorities, gender minorities and refugees - and the intersections of these categories.

Recommended prerequisites

SOA-1001 Understanding cultures. Introduction to Social Anthropology

Objectives of the course

Successful completion of the course will lead to the following learning outcomes:


  • Basic understanding of the history of anthropological thought regarding Human Rights
  • Deep understanding of the concepts of Cultural Relativism and Universalism, and the balance between them, as they apply to Human Rights questions.
  • Have a good understanding of indigenous minority relations to majorities and governments.


  • Use of analytical tools to understand general processes of social categorisation and differentiation
  • To apply a comparative perspective to indigenous/minority conditions worldwide

General competence:

  • Ability to apply all of these tools to global debates on Human Rights in general, and on specific cases involving indigenous/minority rights
  • Be able to reflect critically on debates regarding cultural relativism and universalism related to human rights
  • Ability to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of Human Rights discourses for the prospects of indigenous peoples' self-determination, gender-based rights, and other minority rights cases.  

Language of instruction

The lectures and the exam questions will be given in English, but students will be allowed to answer the exam questions in Norwegian. Coursework-assignments can be writing in Norwegian or English.

Teaching methods

8 lectures and 4 seminars, 2 hours each.


Coursework-assignments: There will be two assignments during the course, both must be approved in order to take the final exam. The assignments may be written in either English or Norwegian. The students will receive all further details in class.

The examination is a take home exam, 10 pages (3500 words).

Grades are given on a scale from A - E. The exam will be given in English, and students may answer the exam in either Norwegian or English.

If the students get the grade F, re-sit exam will be given the following semester.

Date for examination

Home examination hand in date 10.11.2017

The date for the exam can be changed. The final date will be announced in the StudentWeb early in May and early in November.


Recommended reading/syllabus



Freeman, Michael 2017. Human Rights: an interdisciplinary approach (third edition). (280 p)


Goodale, Mark (ed) 2009. Human Rights: An anthropological reader. Wiley-Blackwell (some of the articles listed below are in this collection, they can also be accessed elsewhere)


Articles and book chapters (447p)

Abu-Lughod 2002: ¿Do Muslim Women really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.¿ American Anthropologist Vol. 104:3 (8)

Adams, Vincanne, 1998, ¿Suffering the Winds of Lhasa: Politicized Bodies, Human Rights, Cultural Difference, and Humanism in Tibet.¿ Medical Anthropology Quarterly 12(1) 74-102. (26)

American Anthropological Association, Julian Steward, and H.G. Barnett, 1947. Statement on Human Rights, and commentaries. In Goodale 2009, p.23-31 (9)

Clemmer, Richard O. 2014. ¿Anthropology, the indigenous and human rights: Which billiard balls matter most?¿ Anthropological Theory, 14(1) 92-117. (25)

Farmer, Paul and Nicole Gastineau, 2002, Rethinking Health and Human Rights: Time for a Paradigm Shift. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 30:4 (also in Goodale 2009 148-167. (20)

Goodale, Mark, 2006, Introduction to ¿Anthropology and Human Rights in a New Key¿ American Anthropologist, 108(1) p. 1-8 (8)

Hays Jennifer 2011: Educational rights for indigenous communities in Botswana and Namibia. In The International Journal of Human Rights, 15:1, 127-153 (26)

Kenrick, Justin and Jerome Lewis 2004, ¿Indigenous peoples¿ rights and the politics of the term `indigenous¿¿. Anthropology Today, vol. 20 no. 2: 4-9. (6)

Kradolfer, Sabine 2011: `(Self)essentialisation of Cultural Differences: How peoples and states play hide-and-seek¿ Anthropological Notebooks 17:2, 37-53 (17)

Krivenko, Ekaterina Yahyaoui, 2015, ¿Rethinking Human Rights and Culture Through Female Genital Surgeries.¿ Human Rights Quarterly 37 107-136 (28)

Kymlicka, Will, 1996/2009, ¿The Good, the Bad, and the Intolerable: Minority Group Rights.¿ In Goodale (ed) 58-67 (originally in Dissent 43:3 1996, 22-30) (9)

Marcus, George E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24:95-117 (22)

Merry, Sally Engle. 2006. Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle. American Anthropologist 108(1) 38-51 (13)

Merry, Sally Engle 2011: `Measuring the World: Indicators, Human Rights and Global Governance.¿ Current Anthropology, 52: Supplement 3 83-95. (12)

Messer, Ellen 1993 Anthropology and Human Rights. In Annual Review of Anthropology 22 221-249 (20 p)

Nagengast, Carole 1997: `Women, Minorities, and Indigenous Peoples: Universalism and Cultural Relativity¿. Journal of Anthropological Research 53:3, 349-369 (20)

Paci, C.D. James 2006: `Decolonizing Athabaskan Education: Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Denendeh.¿ In Abu-Saad and Champagne (eds) Indigenous Education and Empowerment: International Perspectives 81-100 (20)

Samson, Colin. 2001. Rights as the reward for situated cultural sameness: the Innu in the Canadian colonial context. In Cowen et al (eds) 226-247 (22)

Saugestad, Sidsel 2001, "Contested images: 'First Peoples' or 'Marginalised Minorities' in Africa?" In Barnard, A. and J. Kenrick (eds) (23)

Saugestad, Sidsel 2011, ¿Impact of international mechanisms on indigenous rights in Botswana¿
The International Journal of Human Rights. Vol 15 (1) 37-61 (24)

Short, Damien 2010. Cultural genocide and indigenous peoples: A sociological approach. In The International Journal of Human Rights. 14:6, 831-846 (15 p)

Speed, Shannon. 2006. At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Toward a Critically Engaged Activist Research. American Anthropologist Volume 108(1) pages 66¿76 (11)

Speed, Shannon, 2008: `Gendered Intersections: Collective and Individual Rights in Indigenous Women¿s Expericence¿. In Goodale 2009, p 229-245 (17)

Stamatopoulou, Elsa. 2012. Monitoring Cultural Human Rights: The Claims of Culture on Human Rights and the Response of Cultural Rights. In Human Rights Quarterly, 34 1170-1192. (20 p)

Sylvain, Renee, 2011: 'At the Intersections: San women and the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa', The International Journal of Human Rights, 15:1, 89-110 (20)

Wilson, Richard A. 2006. `The Social Life of Human Rights.¿ American Anthropologist 108(1):77-83 (6)

Rune Karlsen

Karlsen, Rune

Telefon: +4777620969