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Deploying Cognitive Sociology to Advance Human Rights

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

No one, neither speculative philosopher nor empirical anthropologist, has ever shown human rights to be anything other than a culturally particular social construction. If human rights are not natural, divine, or metaphysical, then they can only be a social construction of particular cultures. If so, then many cultures may justifiably reject them as culturally foreign and hence without local normative validity. In response to this conclusion I develop a cognitive approach to any local culture ‐ a cognitive approach in distinction to a normative one. It allows for advancing human rights as rights internal to any given community’s culture. Human rights can be advanced internally by means of “cognitive re-framing,” a notion I develop out of Erving Goffman’s theory of frame analysis. I deploy it in two examples: female genital mutilation in Africa and child prostitution in Asia.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Government, University of Texas-Austin 1 University Station A1800, Austin, TX 78712-0119, USA, Email:


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