Reconciling Universality and Particularity through a Cosmopolitan Outlook on Human Rights

Rebecca Adami


Human rights are today criticized as not compatible with different cultural values and the debate has circulated around Asian values and Islamic values as in dichotomy with human rights as universal ethics (Ignatieff, 2003). The theoretical dichotomy between universality and particularity is questioned pragmatically in this paper through a historical study. The working process of drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1946-48, which included thousands of people, is explored as a cosmopolitan space in which individuals from different cultural contexts met to negotiate human rights through cultural narratives. The process where particular values were negotiated with universal notion on human rights resulted in a common proclamation (UDHR) without a common philosophical or ideological ground. This paper puts forth a thesis that human rights discourse can work as a cosmopolitan space, in which particular value systems meet in processes characterized by conflict and cohesion. Hence human rights can be understood as a master narrative compatible with different conflicting cultural narratives (Gibson & Somers, 1994).

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