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  • E03

    Beyond Racial Discrimination: “Backwardness” and “Indigenous Peoples”

    Abbildung aus der London Illustrated News mit dem Titel Die Ankunft der ersten Lokomotive in Indore, Zentralindien
    © Internet Archive / The University of Michigan Library (

E03 (B06) | Beyond Racial Discrimination: “Backwardness” and “Indigenous Peoples”


International human rights pledge equality and protection before and under the law. Human rights, which specifically address the notion of racial hierarchies, prohibit unequal treatment based on specific characteristics (race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin), which has the purpose or the effect of nullifying or impairing the enjoyment, on an equal footing, of human rights. Yet, human rights not only involve the guarantee of equal rights. They also allow for “special measures”, in other words, measures aimed at “advancing” racially or ethnically defined groups of people, a political goal evidently implying that those involved have, in one way or another, remained backward.

Historically, “special measures” were supposed to target, for instance, the local populations in non-European territories as opposed to ‘civilised’ Europeans, or the more ‘civilised’ parts of the local population. More recently, human rights are beginning to emerge that seek to protect and preserve the very identities and ways of life of people described as “indigenous” and distinct from European immigrant groups and their descendants.

Our project discusses the not altogether tension-free notions of equality underpinning such norms. The norms evidently rely on practices of comparing: Based on what (routinised) practices of comparing did norm-setters arrive at the conviction that certain groups were left behind and should be carried forward, and what was the aim of this process? What practices of comparing were employed to abandon the idea of ‘backwardness’ in favour of the idea that the diversity of humanity should be protected and respected? And how is it possible to reconcile the granting of special rights (aimed at advancing or promoting diversity) and the notion of having equal rights?

The aim of our research is to identify which practices of comparing (and their effects on law) have contributed to the emergence and dissolution of categories of people. Here, in our opinion, outrageous comparisons have played a major role (cooperation with Willibald Steinmetz, E01). Furthermore, we seek to make a contribution to the dogmatics of equality that combines and balances the legal pledge of enjoying equal rights with the other pledge of being granted special rights.

Project Management

© Philipp Ottendörfer

Ulrike Davy

Academic Co-worker

© Philipp Ottendörfer

Julia Burova

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