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A Good Life

A Good Life: Human rights and encounters with modernity OPEN ACCESS

Mary Edmunds
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt31ngt2
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  • Book Info
    A Good Life
    Book Description:

    This book is a story. It’s a story about ordinary people in very different parts of the world dealing with rapid change in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It’s about times of turbulent and violent social upheaval and rupture with the past. It’s about modern times. It’s also about being human; what it is to be human in a modernising and globalising world; how, in responding to the circumstances of their times, different groups define, redefine, and attempt to put into practice their understandings of the good and of what constitutes a good life. And it’s about how human rights have come to be not abstract universal principles but a practical source of consciousness and practice for real people. Drawing on the author’s experience as an anthropologist, the book examines different groups over the last three decades of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first: Thai factory workers over a period of two coups in the 1970s; Spanish nuns in the 1980s, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the end of the Franco dictatorship; Aboriginal people in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia dealing with the impact of late colonialism and moves towards self-determination, from the 1980s to the present. Each of these groups has its own stories, illuminating ways in which, despite the assault of modernisation on deeply held traditional beliefs and practices, particular cultural understandings and practices continue to shape people’s responses to their novel circumstances. The very diversity of the studies presented in the book raises some of the most compelling moral and social questions of our time and invites the reader, both academic and lay, to focus on what it is that makes us human; whether there are human universals as well as cultural particularities; whether human rights provide universal norms and practices; what unites as well as divides us; and where morality, and understandings of a good life, can be sourced in a secular modern world. “This is a book about hope, the hope that we have ways to live together in a rapidly changing world which will enable us to ‘live a good life in the modern world.’” Hon. Fred Chaney AO.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-67-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword (pp. vii-viii)
    Fred Chaney

    This is a book about hope, the hope that we have ways to live together in a rapidly changing world which will enable us to ‘live a good life in the modern world’. It goes beyond hope and suggests how we may do this.

    The how is a critical question at a time when rapid change is impacting on all societies. What will be the human outcomes of political turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere? How will lives and societies be affected by the bewildering pace of economic change in places as disparate as China and the Pilbara region...

  2. Introduction
    • Introduction (pp. 3-8)

      This book is a story. It’s a story about ordinary people in very different parts of the world dealing with rapid change in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It’s about times of turbulent and violent social upheaval and rupture with the past. It’s about modern times. It’s also about being human: what it is to be human in a modernising and globalising world; how, in responding to the circumstances of their times, different groups define, redefine, and attempt to put into practice their understandings of the good and of what constitutes a good life. And it’s about how...

    • There is no single notion of a good life, or of a good society; or, indeed, of how they are connected. This proposition holds at the philosophical, moral and political levels of theorising, discussion and debate. It is also true of the people in this book, all of whom have striven, in widely differing circumstances, to forge for themselves what they interpret as a good life. In each case, the interpretation was generated by specific experiences of both tradition and modernisation, and by the particular circumstances in which they found themselves. To that extent, this book offers no single interpretation...

  3. Part I. Tradition and transformation in a non-colonised state:: Thailand
    • Each country, and each group within a country, has undergone its own experience of modernisation. In Thailand, the beginning of this process can be dated to the middle of the nineteenth century and the reign of King Mongkut, followed by that of his son, King Chulalongkorn. Despite turbulent political events over the subsequent century, including the end of constitutional monarchy in 1932 and the growing dominance of rule by the military, the resistance of the country to European colonisation resulted in a totalising discourse privileging continuity and tradition. At the heart of this interpretation were the Thai monarchy and Thai...

    • In making a choice to move from their hometowns and villages to Bangkok and to take on factory work, the Bang Khen workers had already shifted outside their accepted traditional roles. Modernisation had made that choice available to them and they saw it as an opportunity for achieving a better life, principally for themselves as individuals but also in relation to the greater assistance they could provide for their families. Their new experiences were what expanded this understanding and forged the link for them between their desire for a good life and the broader need for a good society. Despite...

  4. Part II. Tradition and transformation in a non-colonised state:: Spain
    • For the nuns in Spain, the key event thrusting them into modernity came, perhaps surprisingly, not from awareness of social change or external political movements but from within the Catholic Church itself. This pivotal event was the holding of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962–65). As Buddhist belief and practices in Thailand were historically linked to the monarchy and a conservative political regime, so a narrowly traditional Catholicism was used in Spain in the first half of the twentieth century to contain the forces of modernisation and to legitimise a largely feudal framework of social and political relations....

    • Pursuit of the principle of social justice after Vatican II took the form, for many of the nuns, of what they called inserción: involvement in the world, taking seriously the moral imperatives arising from the bond of common humanity. This process itself, in a reversal of that affecting the Thai factory workers, led to their redefining of what they understood as a good life. Central to this redefinition was a profound shift in their understanding of the relationship between the religious and the secular, brought about by a deeper engagement with social justice as human rights. In the process, the...

  5. Part III. Colonised people and the nation-state:: Aboriginal Australia
    • For Indigenous people in Australia the encounter with modernity was produced by colonisation. This happened at different times in different parts of the country. In the Pilbara, in Western Australia, colonisation came relatively late, in the mid nineteenth century, and occurred in different stages. The pastoral industry was the first industry to be established in the region. It brought colonisation, but little modernisation. The beginning of inexorable modernisation and fragmenting of connections with the traditional past dates from the iron-ore mining boom of the 1960s. A defining experience of modernity for Pilbara Aboriginal people was marginalisation, encapsulated physically as well...

    • Pilbara Aboriginal people have had painful experiences of culture loss and, with that, stark challenges to their moral source, to their understanding of a good life, and to their grounding of a sense of a good life in the cultural practices previously constitutive for them of a good society. It took two decades for the beginnings of recovery from the shattering impact of the iron-ore boom of the 1960s. The basis of that recovery was twofold: a reassertion and reframing of the critical importance of country as a cultural and moral source; and the development of some legislative rights. In...

  6. Part IV. Modernity and human rights
    • The Durban NGO Forum and conference began with the high hopes of civil society and of nations that a conference held in the highly symbolic setting of post-Apartheid South Africa would bring new energy to the fight against racism and the more broadly ambitious agenda of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Instead, both the Forum and the conference degenerated into ugly confrontations between Palestinian supporters and Jewish representatives. One outcome was that a conference that in reality addressed a wide range of crucial social issues was reduced in the reporting and subsequent analyses to the single issue of anti-Semitism...

    • When the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, they threw into stark question the modern social imaginary and, with it, the fragile ascendancy of reason and of an international moral and legal framework articulated through the discourse and practice of human rights. These features of modernity were never absolute, as the history of the twentieth century had made brutally clear, and had been under escalating assault over the same period as ‘the decade of human rights’ in, among other places, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Palestinian territories and Israel. Evil played its role,...