Human Rights and Culture

Subject LAWS70453 (2014)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2014.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 7 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2014.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: The total class time is between 24 and 26 hours.
Total Time Commitment: Not available
Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge:

Applicants without legal qualifications should note that subjects are offered in the discipline of law at an advanced graduate level. While every effort will be made to meet the needs of students trained in other fields, concessions will not be made in the general level of instruction or assessment. Most subjects assume the knowledge usually acquired in a degree in law (LLB, JD or equivalent). Applicants should note that admission to some subjects in the Melbourne Law Masters will be dependent upon the individual applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

The Melbourne Law Masters welcomes applications from students with disabilities. The inherent academic requirements for study in the Melbourne Law Masters are:

  • The ability to attend a minimum of 75% of classes and actively engage in the analysis and critique of complex materials and debate;
  • The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and to critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  • The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students who feel their disability will inhibit them from meeting these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact the Disability Liaison Unit:


For more information, contact the Melbourne Law Masters office.

Phone: +61 3 8344 6190

Subject Overview:

This subject examines the human rights system from an anthropological perspective, as a social system. It studies the practices of international conventions and conferences as well as local communities and non-governmental organisations. The subject focuses on tensions and translations between human rights and culture, including opposition to human rights in the name of protecting cultural differences. Such issues typically focus on women, children, and the family, such as female genital cutting, honour killing, trafficking of persons, and Indigenous people’s rights to culture. To resolve the apparent opposition between culture and rights, it is important to understand how human rights are mobilised in specific contexts. The lecturer is an anthropologist who has worked on human rights and gender violence in New York, Geneva, and the Asia/Pacific region.

Principal topics will include:

  • The human rights system in practice: major conventions, procedures and organisations
  • The meanings of universalism and relativism
  • Concepts of culture and gender
  • Areas of contestation: case studies of female genital cutting, honour killing, veiling, violence against women and trafficking
  • Culture and Indigenous rights
  • Human rights and social movements
  • The translation of human rights into local contexts: the process of vernacularisation
  • The implications of quantification for human rights practice
  • Rethinking the human rights system as a set of social practices as well as a system of law.
Learning Outcomes:

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have the analytical tools to understand the meanings of culture and the nature of human rights as a system of law and as one of practice.
  • Be able to assess areas of apparent contradiction between culture and rights and develop creative ways of analysing these conflicts.
  • Have the theoretical concepts and tools to articulate these issues in the practice of human rights law in a sophisticated way that will facilitate doing human rights law.
  • Be conversant with the social science language necessary to think about human rights as a social process as well as a system of law.

Take-home examination (100%) (9 – 12 May)

Prescribed Texts:

Core subject materials will be provided free of charge to all students. Some subjects require further texts to be purchased. Details regarding any prescribed texts will be provided prior to the commencement of the subject.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Links to further information:

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