Social representation of human rights : the case of the 'patrona' and 'muchacha' relationship
In this thesis, I investigate social representations of human rights in the context of the relationship between an employer (patrona) and a domestic worker (muchacha) in Mexican middle-class households. I examine how the theory of social representations can contribute to the understanding of the definition and practice of human rights. By looking at the negotiation of rights and duties in the household, I show how lay ideas about human rights are grounded in lived experiences which go beyond the formal legal definitions of human rights. Two aspects of social representations are explored. Firstly, drawing on the work of Doise (1978), social representations are considered as mediators of intergroup relations, in specific the patrona and muchacha relationship. Secondly, the thesis considers social representations as a form of social knowledge expressed through practices. This is done by identifying the practices which define the boundaries between patrona and muchacha in the context of the household. A detailed ethnography of four Mexican households, individual interviews and focus groups with patronas and muchachas, and individual interviews with community workers, comprise the range of techniques used to generate data while content analysis and space analysis are used to systematize and interpret the material. The analysis of textual data was supported by Nu*dist. Ethnographic and qualitative research methods (participant observation, individual and group in-depth interviews) are used to explore how practices and social thinking intertwine. The results show that the relationship between patronas and muchachas constructs social representations of human rights guided by the notion of difference. This difference organizes the distribution of space and the negotiations of rights and duties within households. It also overpowers the competing representation of fraternal feelings and gender solidarity, which anchored in religious beliefs and tradition, constitutes an important component in the relationship between patronas and muchachas. The overall representational field uncovered retrieves notions of blood, ethnic group and social status to explain the problem of difference and to justify the violation of human rights commonly taking place in Mexican households. The study suggests that these findings should be considered in the structuring of human rights campaigns and policies.