Mapping the Rights Apparatus
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Mapping the Rights Apparatus


Critical studies of human rights have hit an impasse. On the one hand, the relativist critique of rights is caught in the horns of the dilemmas that have trapped relativism more generally. When relativists declare that rights are not part of a particular cultural world, or that rights can do harm by commodifying relations or things that were once integral to people's lifeways, relativists re-institute cultures as the kind of definable, objectifiable entities that their critique of rights as objectifying "culture" sought to challenge. When relativists seek to discover "local" or "indigenous" conceptions of rights, or to find a least common denominator shared by all the world's cultures that will ground a new conception of rights (such as the lex talionis, or the eye-for-an-eye conception of justice),' they undermine their own claims of cultural incommensurability.2

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