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Human rights: mediating politics and affection

Grant number: 22/00777-4
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Doctorate
Effective date (Start): September 01, 2022
Effective date (End): August 31, 2023
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Anthropology
Principal researcher:Paula Montero
Grantee:Olivia Alves Barbosa
Supervisor abroad: Charles Hirschkind
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Research place: University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), United States  
Associated to the scholarship:19/19639-8 - Human rights and religious transnational activism: an anthropological look at Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir, BP.DR

Abstract

In argue that human rights are a language that supports local, national, and international institutions, but also works as a means of political communication when appropriated by different subjects to formulate political demands. In other words, human rights are a mediating language of different social relations, and this language has its specific grammar, codes, forms, and aesthetics. I intend to research how social media contributes to forming an affective landscape in which human rights are shaped and, at the same time, shape political subjects in Brazil. To accomplish this, I will follow human rights language at work, looking at the interactions of the Catholic for the Right to Decide (CDD), a network of non-governmental organizations spread across Latin America. The network is composed of women and men who define themselves as Catholic and question the Vatican's prescriptions related to demands such as contraception and abortion. Their framing of the problem allows them to approach feminist movements and, at the same time, enable them to keep a singularity about movements that define themselves as secular. In Brazil, the debate on abortion is usually configured as a dispute between secular subjects and religious subjects. Looking at CDD invites us to rethink this dichotomy, which can obliterate the complexity of the debate and the subjects involved in discussions about abortion. As Hirschkind observes, the secular marks a relational dynamic with the religious. This means that the boundaries of the religious and secular categories do not pre-exist to the process of disputes but are continually determined and reciprocally redefined. The use activists make of the internet shows that the means of communication matter in the political action and the appropriation of the language of human rights. It is fascinating to observe that movements against and in favor of abortion rights have different conceptions of the subjects of human rights. The images of humanity they produce are different and observing the political images they create on social media can clarify these differences. Both movements use the concept of humanity to justify the existence of inviolable rights, but their subjects are distinct; at the same time, both use the ambiguity of images to persuade wider audiences on social media. As I will try to show, the circulation of images and icons opens the possibility of transposing events to different spatialities and temporalities. Moreover, it is the specific image of humanity that people have in mind that leads them to choose certain rights as more human than others. Therefore, the defense of human rights depends on images. The economy of social media is geared towards capturing the attention of users. In practice, this implies that messages must arouse interest in fractions of a second to gain greater visibility and not be buried in an avalanche of information. One way to achieve this effect is to organize emotional images and controversial phrases to provoke engagement. That is, image analysis will allow me to glimpse how the meanings of human rights vary and are disputed. Based on the Anthropological literature on the subject (Csordas, Hirschkind, Mahmood, Ahmed) I intend to observe and describe the affection empirically on social media and understand how it interacts with the politics of human rights. I will follow the development of disputes between CDD and anti-feminist activists, many of them openly Christian. I propose a digital ethnography to look at how political subjects and the language of human rights are modeled simultaneously in social media actions and interactions. An ethnography of the digital thus considers the materiality of the digital infrastructure (designs, technologies, algorithms, functionalities), digital content (videos, texts, and images), and the digital context (digital space is a new kind of space in which new forms of social action occur). (AU)

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