Reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power for a Human Rights course while reading and talking about Appaduri’s theories and discussing the concept of the transnational in class, I recognized human rights as a transnational space, perhaps even another “scape” interacting with the others that Appaduri defines. This now seems obvious, considering it is a field based on standards defined universally that implicate nations in international violations and, alternately, raise national violence against individuals to the status of international crime, and work through boundary-crossing intervention by governments and organizations.
The rhetoric that Paul Farmer, as both an anthropologist and doctor, uses to speak of human rights violations situates them contextually, rather than purely legally, rejecting a relativist or particularist stance. Human rights, for Farmer, transcends “local ideaology or longstanding tradition,” as universal, or transnational, standards whose violations cannot be considered within local norms. He repeatedly establishes local-global dependencies in his work to redefine human rights violations as products of global systems of oppression. For example, in Pathologies of Power, Farmer exposes inequality of healthcare as symptomatic of a larger structural, institutional, and societal inequality. Within the new globalized ethno/techno/media/ideo/finance “scapes,” Farmer says that a “new field of health and human rights emerges.” This “new field” is one inextricable from other global forces and, moreover, Farmer’s theorizations of human rights and public health reveal access to healthcare as an indicator of global economic and social disparity that identifies a transnational class of oppressed people. To be an advocate for these people, for Farmer, is to work on a global level that matches his redefinition of human rights issues as embedded in global systems. Attempts by national governments and bureaucracies to provide aid and relief to those with inadequate healthcare, or people suffering other human rights violations, is almost never an act separate from political, ideological, or economic interests. Thus, the pretense of human rights becomes another entry point for world powers like the US to broaden their global influence. Because of this kind of corruption, Farmer urges relief through NGOs which are also, hopefully more positive, modes of transnational influence.