Cover of Letters to the Contrary by Edited and Introduced by Mark Goodale
Letters to the Contrary
A Curated History of the UNESCO Human Rights Survey
Edited and Introduced by Mark Goodale

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April 2018
392 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804799003
Paper ISBN: 9781503605343

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Since its adoption in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has served as the foundation for the protection of human rights around the world. Historians and human rights scholars have claimed that the UDHR was influenced by UNESCO's 1947-48 global survey of intellectuals, theologians, and cultural and political leaders, a survey that supposedly revealed a truly universal consensus on human rights. This book provides a curated history of the UNESCO human rights survey and demonstrates its relevance to contemporary debates over the origins, legitimacy, and universality of human rights.

Based on meticulous archival research, Letters to the Contrary revises and enlarges the conventional understanding of UNESCO's human rights survey. Mark Goodale's extensive archival research uncovers a historical record filled with letters and responses that were omitted, polite refusals to respond, and outright rejections of the universal human rights ideal. This volume collects these neglected survey responses, including letters by T.S. Eliot, Mahatma Gandhi, W. H. Auden, and other important artists and thinkers.

In collecting, annotating, and analyzing these responses, Goodale reveals an alternative history that is deeply connected to the ongoing life of human rights in the twenty-first century. This history demonstrates that the UNESCO human rights survey was much less than supposed, but also much more. In many ways, the intellectual struggles, moral questions, and ideological doubts among the different participants who both organized and responded to the survey reveal a strikingly critical and contemporary orientation, raising similar questions at the center of current debates surrounding human rights scholarship and practice.

About the authors

Mark Goodale is Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Lausanne and Series Editor of Stanford Studies in Human Rights. The author or editor of 12 other volumes, his most recent book is Anthropology and Law: A Critical Introduction (2017).