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Introducing Discipline: Anthropology and Human Rights Administrations

Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Fall 2005

Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-017

23 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2005  

Annelise Riles

Cornell University - Law School

Iris E. F. Jean-Klein

Edinburgh University


Anthropologists engage human rights administrations with an implicit promise that our discipline has something unique to offer. The articles in this special issue turn questions about relevance and care so often heard in the context of debates about human rights outside in. They focus not on how anthropology can contribute to human rights activities, but on what anthropological encounters with human rights contribute to the development of our discipline. They ask, how exactly do we render the subject relevant to anthropology? Reflecting on some ways anthropologists in this field have dispensed care for their subjects, the authors highlight two modalities of human rights anthropology, co-construction and denunciation. Two key problems with these modalities are identified - their duplicative and iterative qualities. With reference to the contributions to this special issue, the editors make a case for a more ethnographically engaged anthropology of human rights. They emphasize disciplined description and disciplined engagement with the politics of the field as an ethical position for anthropology and as a means of reclaiming disciplinary relevance.

Suggested Citation

Riles, Annelise and Jean-Klein, Iris E. F., Introducing Discipline: Anthropology and Human Rights Administrations. Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Fall 2005; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-017. Available at SSRN:

Annelise Riles (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Iris Jean-Klein

Edinburgh University ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 9JY
United Kingdom

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