Mapping the Legal Geographies of Cultural Rights
The current research of Dr. Rosemary Coombe, Canada Research Chair in Law, Communications and Culture, is designed to develop an inter-disciplinary theoretical framework to explore and explain the growing proliferation of cultural rights claims under conditions of neo-liberalism and to illustrate the usefulness of this framework by mapping issue networks in trans-national arenas.
Cultural rights in international law include intellectual property rights (or more generally, rights pertaining to moral and material interests in works of which one is an author), rights of minorities to maintain and to develop cultural heritage, rights to participate in cultural life, rights to benefit from the arts and scientific achievement and rights to international cultural cooperation.
Although cultural rights are perhaps the least known and elaborated upon of the categories of human rights, they are increasingly significant in the assertion of social justice claims. The principles of cultural rights are now incorporated into interpretations and applications of many international legal instruments and in the practices of institutions such as the World Bank, international aid agencies, and non-governmental organizations. Whether the objective is rural development, environmental sustainability or rights-based development, an emphasis upon maintaining, and, in some cases, profiting from, cultural distinction has assumed new significance in international arenas. In this process, relationships between the "local" and the "global" are reconfigured and alternative forms of sovereignty are articulated.
Coombe considers the relationship between neo-liberalism and cultural rights, exploring new forms of governmentality and characteristic subjectivities that seek to empower local communities, recognize traditions as sources of social capital and otherwise demand that peoples adopt an entrepreneurial attitude towards their “culture” and the social relations of reproduction that have traditionally sustained them.