IB Cultural Anthropology/The Nature of Culture/Rights

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The anthropological doctrine of cultural relativism discussed previously has the potential for a wide range of abuse. Seemingly any behavior would be permissible under the guise of “cultural differences.” Some offences are too strong to bear under any culture, however, so cultural relativism is tempered by human rights.

Human Rights[edit]

Human rights are those rights vested in any individual:

  • Right to speak freely
  • Right to hold personal religious beliefs
  • Right to not be murdered
  • Right to not be enslaved
  • Right to not be imprisoned without charges

These rights transcend culture and governments and are inalienable to any human. However, because of the universal nature of these rights, several that we consider to be ‘inalienable’ are not considered at all by other cultures. These problem human rights are gender equality, political equality, and economic equality. While we may marvel at the gender inequality throughout the world, we would be horrified to practice economic equality and share our wealth with those around us.

Cultural Rights[edit]

Not only do humans have rights, but cultures have rights as well. These are vested in groups, not individuals:

  • Right to preserve culture
  • Right to raise children in that culture
  • Right to the culture’s language
  • Right to not be deprived of economic base
  • Right to self-determination
  • Right to home rule
  • Right to religious freedom

These rights are similar to human rights and are just as important- without a culture humans cannot survive anyway, so human rights would become worthless.

Intellectual Property Rights[edit]

Today, problems arise with intellectual property rights. Cultures often like to decide for themselves which icons are allowed to be used by others as an attempt to preserve a cultural base. Christians, for example, would not often encourage the sale of a paint-by-number Jesus figurine. The problem arises when deciding who exactly “owns” the idea since cultures themselves cannot own anything in our culture.


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