What Cognitive Sociology Can Contribute To Human Rights Diffusion

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Benjamin GREGG , Government, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Because many a social construction appears parochial from standpoints outside and beyond the community of origin, one wonders: On what basis might one parochialism ever justifiably trump another? Specifically, how might particular human rights be made widely plausible from within communities in which they currently appear implausible for local cultural reasons? The words “from within” already signal a central aspect of my thesis: a parochial idea is legitimate for the community that embraces it. Human rights can be legitimate for any community that comes to embrace them. But how can particular human rights become persuasive within cultural communities tomorrow that today regard them as alien or misguided? The answer could have critical implications: conceptually for the sociology of culture; practically for the human rights project. My approach aspires to redeem both possibilities. As theory, it combines cognitive sociology with normative philosophy. With practical intent, it would facilitate human rights diffusion through a new conceptual insight. It construes human rights as a cultural phenomenon and then emphasizes cognitive culture over normative culture as better suited for advancing human rights viewed sociologically: as a culturally parochial social construction. I develop my approach in several steps: (1) I reject essentializing approaches toward culture and instead (2) distinguish cognitive aspects of culture from normative ones. (3) I show how a cognitive approach allows for human rights as rights internal to any given community’s culture. I then propose human rights as a learning process in two senses: (4) as a “cognitive community” and (5) as a social system. (6) These steps render human rights, understood in the theoretically least taxing way as merely parochial social constructions, nonetheless spreadable across cultural and political boundaries – through a technique of “cognitive reframing.”