Are universal human rights a form of cultural imperialism?



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3.5 Cultural Imperialism


   Cultural imperialism has a fundamental position in debates on globalization. It has been subject to a lot of criticism, nevertheless, it remains a useful tool in explaining the imbalance which occurs in the process of cultural production and consumption, and furthermore it plays a role in international as well as supranational politics (Sarikakis, 2005: 80).

        Theories of great impact within the field mainly originate in the West. Inspired by Marxist thought, Herbert Schiller has been one of the more influential theorists within the field. Schiller (1976) believes that the world, to some extent, is influenced by dominant players in political, economic, military and cultural terms. In this context the United States is especially perceived to be dominant in regard to cultural imperialism (Schiller in Sparks, 2012: 282). According to Roach (1997), the years within which cultural imperialist thinking emerged was also the years that American-based transnational corporations experienced great economic expansion globally, and an increase in Western-backed military dictatorships in Asia, Africa and Latin America occurred. The focus of cultural imperialism was especially put on the economic expansion of American capitalism in the Southern hemispheres (Roach, 1997: 47-48).

Schiller (1976) defines cultural imperialism as follows:

"The concept of cultural imperialism today best describes the sum of the process by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the value and structures of the dominating centre of the system" (Schiller 1976: 9 in Sparks, 2012: 282).

Further, the concept has by Sarmela (1977) been explained as "the economic, technological and cultural hegemony of the industrialized nations, which determined the direction of both economic and social progress, defines cultural values, and standardizes the civilization and cultural environment throughout the world." (p. 1). Hence, cultural imperialism can be seen as a conceptual framework seeking to address a range of problems. Further, it is argued that it refers to a global state in which powerful culture industries and actors to a great extent are found in the West. These cultural actors then dominate other cultures. The domination is mainly perceived to be the result of inequalities that have existed throughout history which have led to political and economic power mainly being located in the West. According to critics (Morris, 2002; Sepstrup, 1989 in Demont-Heinrich, 2011: 668), cultural imperialism can be seen as a way of injecting cultural values of the superior power into national and local cultures and in this way overpower them. By imposing Western values on other cultures a form of global homogenization can occur (Demont-Heinrich, 2011: 668).

The term of cultural imperialism as a mechanism for theorizing global cultural production emerged in the late 1960s (Roach, 1997). It can be seen as a response to Modernization Theory, which, as mentioned, argues that the Western model of development should be applied to the rest of the world. Cultural imperialism mainly draws on Dependency Theory, which provides insight in the underlying socio-economic reasons as to why the world acts in a certain way, arguing that wealthy nations are dependent on the poorer ones to remain in their current subordinate position, in order to maintain their wealth and be able to prosper (Hendricks, 2000). Cultural imperialism is further inspired by Marxist theories. It should be emphasized that it does not exclusively revolve around unequal cultural flows occurring between developing and developed countries. It can also be used to examine unequal cultural flows among developed countries. This form has not gained scholarly attention to the same extent as the unequal flows between developed and developing countries (Demont-Heinrich, 2011: 3). In this project, we will also focus on the cultural flows between developed and developing countries.


3.6 Homosexuality


As our focus within human rights in this project is the rights of homosexuals, a general discussion of the term will now be provided.

Within the history of sexuality there is a general perception that homosexuality is a rather new invention deriving from Western culture and hence a perception that it is not a part of natural human behavior. The term came into existence in the late 19th century. Historians of sexuality argue that even if sexual acts between people of the same sex and the punishment hereof have taken place before the late 19th century, there was no clear definition of these persons as homosexuals. Nevertheless, along with a growing understanding and knowledge on the subject of sexuality, homosexuality became acknowledged as a form of identity. The emergence of the term drew primarily on theories and histories of gender (Sommerville, 1994: 243-244).

The debate on general sexuality and same-sex attraction is not new. Rather, it has been subject for debate, dating back to for example Plato's Symposium originating from 385-380 BC. Hence, even though the term did not exist in earlier societies, issues of sexuality did exist (Homosexuality, 2011).

During the past 30 years, the topic of homosexuality has also been researched to a greater extent than earlier, and it has been proven to be common and widespread throughout the world, existing in all cultures. However, the extent to which it is accepted varies profoundly. Research has further found that most men, at some point in their lives, will experience some kind of attraction toward his own sex (Choe, 2007). As late as in the 1970s it was a general perception that homosexuality was a learned behavior, and that it was something that should be treated. It was further suggested that this supposed 'disorder' might stem from a genetic or hormonal basis. This, however, never became an acknowledged explanation. A common acknowledgement on the basis of research of the 1970s, and before that, is mainly that homosexuality was a sin in regard to culture and beliefs. Hence, at that time a consensus of anti-homosexuality prevailed. However, this view has later on been criticized for being simplistic. Further examination has shown that there is no consensus in regard to causes of homosexuality. On the contrary, it was shown that homosexuality is rather a set of opinions, theories and conjecture as any other human behavioral aspects (Stout, NY: 29-30).

Sigmund Freud has delivered one of the more prominent theories of homosexuality. He argued that homosexuality was an expression of something which existed in all human beings, deriving from biological tendencies of bisexuality. He further believed that all human beings, in their process of becoming heterosexual, would go through a so-called 'homoerotic' phase, with no exceptions. During this process specific life experiences can interfere with the development and a person can remain at the homosexual level. Even if the process would continue in a 'normal' manner, there would still be a chance of possible homosexual aspects to remain as permanent (Marmor 1965:2 in Stout, NY: 30).

3.6.1 A Religious Perspective


Historically, religion has had great impact on certain sexual codes of conduct. For example in Judeo-Christianity it has been a tradition to perceive a monogamous family as morally right. Therefore, homosexuality as well as other sexual 'deviations' is not met with a positive mind within this culture. Within the Mormon church, for example, homosexuality was also seen as being sinful. That is, there has been no room for homosexuality whether it is within Christianity or the Jewish faith. The attitude towards homosexuality, as is the case today, has varied to a great extent from culture to culture. In some societies it has been accepted and seen as normal, whereas in others it has been condemned. However, a common acknowledgement within the different religions has earlier been that homosexuals have chosen this specific lifestyle knowing that it is sinful. It has further been seen as being against nature. The problem about this statement is the uncertainty about whether we really choose our sexuality ourselves (Stout, NY: 34-35). As mentioned previously, research has shown that sexual orientation should be assigned the same occurrence as other human behavioral patterns. These findings are, thus, not in overall compliance with such religious beliefs that homosexuals knowingly choose such 'sinful behavior'.

3.6.2 Homosexuality as a Human Right


In 2012, a booklet was published by the UN Human Rights Office with the aim of drawing attention to the obligations that states have in relation to protecting the rights of LBGT people. For example, the principles for extending the rights to include LGBT people derive from international human rights law. The Human Rights Council has for almost two decades been investing in raising awareness of violation of the rights of LGBT people. In the reports on acts of discrimination, the victims are being beleaguered on the grounds of assumptions of them being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (UN, 2012a). The booklet focuses its attention on five core legal obligations of states. These are, in short, to: protect individuals, prevent torture, decriminalize homosexuality, prohibit discrimination, and respect freedom of expression (UN, 2012b).

In 2013, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights launched 'Free and Equal'; a campaign for LGBT rights. It was established on the Human Rights Day of 2013, marking the 65th anniversary of the UDHR. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness of discrimination of LGBT people and to obtain respect for the rights of these people. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, argues that "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises a world in which everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights - no exception, no-one left behind." Nevertheless, she notes that LGBT people all over the world are still exposed to violence and discrimination (UN, 2013).

Debates about whether gay rights are a part of basic human rights have increased along with a growing media attention to the discrimination of LGBT people. As mentioned above, the UN are dedicated to raising awareness of LGBT people as well as promoting respect for the rights of these people. The Charter of the United Nations argues for "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction". In the same vein, article 2 of the UDHR states that "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind". In spite of this guidance, UN member states, as noted, continue to have laws illegalizing same sex relations (Gary & Rubin, 2012). On the basis of the articles of the Charter of the United Nations and the UDHR, it can be argued that homosexuality can be seen as a human right; an argument that will be further elaborated in the analysis.




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