Emerging Legal Geographies of Cultural Rights

This project explores the intensification of interest in culture as the basis for new forms of development and the assertion of new rights. Communities, NGOs, indigenous peoples and new social movement activists now assert distinctive rights and entitlements on cultural rather than economic or political grounds. Contemporary development strategies emphasize the need to tap into culture so as to develop local social capital and eliminate rural poverty. Claims to cultural property are proliferating around the world. Intellectual property is proposed to protect traditional knowledge, cultural expressions and intangible cultural heritage. What is the international legal and policy basis for these developments? How do we reconcile these claims with constitutional norms that stress equality, freedom of expression, and general access to a vibrant public domain? Are the dangers to liberal democratic norms posed by a revitalized commitment to culture as a collective right limited or contained by international human rights principles? These issues are especially relevant to South Africa but require the attention of an interdisciplinary and international team of scholars.

Project leader(s):
  • Rosemary Coombe (York, Toronto)