Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Anthropology, Human Rights, Ghana, Democracy, Law

Major Advisor

Dr. Richard Wilson

Associate Advisor

Dr. Francoise Dussart

Associate Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Holzer

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


In this dissertation, I investigate the relationship between human rights participation and political subjectivity in Ghana. Specifically, I address two primary questions: 1) does participation in human rights-based activities have an impact on individual beliefs about democracy and the state? And, 2) if so, how do these altered beliefs manifest themselves in behavioral changes, including the way that individuals advance claims, settle disputes, and talk about the responsibilities of the state? To answer these questions, I conducted 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in two low-income communities in Accra, Ghana. I argue that participating in human rights activities has had a long-lasting impact on the way that activists settle disputes, the frequency with which they contact government officials, and the way that they speak about corruption and the responsibilities of the state. Although many scholars have argued that the human rights system may be depoliticizing as it universalizes participants and contains their resistance within controllable state channels, I argue for a nuanced understanding of how social and historical contexts may affect the way that citizens encounter human rights and take on rights-bearing subjectivities. In the communities in which I worked, legacies of colonial urban planning and social exclusion have combined to produce a post-colonial environment where residents continue to feel excluded from the governmental processes that regulate their lives. Therefore, for activists living within these communities, even representing oneself in front of the government as an acceptable political subject may feel like a radical act and may have the potential to challenge existing power inequities and alter subjectivity in a way that it may not in other contexts.