Surrendering to Utopia

Surrendering to Utopia is a critical and wide-ranging study of anthropology’s contributions to human rights. Providing a unique window into the underlying political and intellectual currents that have shaped human rights in the postwar period, this ambitious work opens up new opportunities for research, analysis, and political action. At the book’s core, the author describes a “well-tempered human rights,” an orientation to human rights in the twenty-first century that is shaped by a sense of humility, an appreciation for the disorienting fact of multiplicity, and a willingness to make the mundaneness of social practice a source of ethical inspiration.

In examining the curious history of anthropology’s engagement with human rights, this book moves from more traditional anthropological topics within the broader human rights community, for example, relativism and the problem of culture, to consider a wider range of theoretical and empirical topics.

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Among others, it examines the link between anthropology and the emergence of “neoliberal” human rights, explores the claim that anthropology has played an important role in legitimizing these rights, and gauges whether or not this is evidence of anthropology’s potential to transform human rights theory and practice more generally.

“This is a sophisticated, brave, and ultimately successful attempt to bridge the gap between anthropology and normative theory. By taking on the intricate relationship between anthropology and human rights, Goodale shows clearly why anthropology should matter, not only academically, but also in the wider world of policy and politics. It is a timely book which moves beyond the relativism-universalism dichotomy and thereby demonstrates what anthropological theory in the 21st century ought to look like.”

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, University of Oslo

“Goodale’s meditation on human rights through the prism of culture pulls off a compelling discussion of the ways universalism and relativism continue to define international human rights. He offers a fascinating history of the political deployment of the term culture, as well as its use and abuse in national and international human rights struggles.”

Victoria Sanford, City University of New York

“This fluid and compelling book draws on a broad intellectual tradition to highlight how the relationship between anthropology and human rights developed and what it could and should become in the future. An engaging and thought-provoking read!”

Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, University of Sussex