Writing and Rhetoric

Second Major

Political Science


Derbyshire, Lynne

Advisor Department

Communication Studies




Senegal; human rights; constitutive rhetoric; international law; cultural relativism

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Creative Commons License
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(Political Science, Writing & Rhetoric, French)

Rhetoric and International Human Rights: The Case of the Senegalese Talibés

Sponsor: Lynne Derbyshire (Communication Studies, Honors Program)

While in Senegal, I witnessed the hurdles faced by proponents of international human rights standards. Thousands of Muslim boys, called talibés, undertake their Koranic education in Senegal. Many are forced to beg in the streets by their educators, and abuse in the schools is common. Still, this education is considered a valuable part of the boys’ spiritual development. Despite the multitude of countries that have openly supported and ratified international human rights compacts, many of those same countries still face challenges in the form of systematized abuses. In Senegal, the prolific issue of forced child begging is the focus of the majority of human rights and development organizations, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). However, for many locals, such abuses constitute practices which are considered valuable and culturally legitimate. To international human rights defenders, this legitimacy is a stumbling block, and difficult to reconcile with Western conceptions of human rights standards. In this project, I seek to identify two conceptions of human rights: the Western conception, endorsed by the United Nations and supported by USAID’s mission in-country, and that of the indigenous people of Senegal. Through a series of critical rhetorical analyses, and by drawing on the work of Maurice Charland and his idea of constitutive rhetoric, I hope to better identify these cultural discrepancies, and how they each lend to the rhetorical constitution of opposing ideologies and audiences. Theories of constitutive rhetoric assert that the audience plays an active role in discourse, and in this case, the Senegalese act as ideological agents within this discourse, thus informing their beliefs surrounding the rights of the individual. By developing an understanding of the discrepancies that exist between Western and indigenous conceptions of human rights, both Western and local human rights organizations can identify better strategies to promote and protect human rights more effectively.