Critical human rights studies vs. human rights monitoring and activism?

In a recent edition of Human Rights Quarterly, Reza Afshari provides a thought-provoking reflection on Arzoo Osanloo’s ethnographic study of human rights discourse in Iran, The Politics of Women’s Rights in Iran. Afshari’s critique revolves around one of the subsidiary aims of Osanloo’s book, namely to “help human rights advocates tailor their activism in the most precise manner.” His rather dismissive conclusion reads:

The claims of particularism and complaints about human rights “universalism as imperialism” that lead to a scholarly demand for a retooling of the human rights discourse and practice, leave international monitors and scholars wondering how to proceed. How should they write about human rights violations of Iranian or Chinese women occurring today? Anthropologists have brought a sense of excitement and positive engagement to their own academic discipline by engaging international human rights discourse. In the end, the skillful adjoining of ethnography and international human rights discourse offers no significant practical assistance to international human rights discourse and practice.

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