Understanding Human Rights I: Ideas and Contexts

10 ECTS Credits – Autumn Term

For students undertaking the Latin America pathway, this core module is not compulsory but it is strongly recommended. 

Aims and Objectives

This module utilises a broad range of approaches from the social sciences and humanities in order to develop a nuanced understanding of human rights and human rights abuses. It aims to provide an insight into some of the key debates and an overview of important literature in this growing area of scholarship. The module is based on the assumption that the work of human rights activists, whether seeking to prevent abuses, construct, secure and access rights, or obtain redress for victims and survivors, requires that the concept of human rights be comprehensively and sensitively understood. Students will emerge with a deeper and more complex understanding of what human rights are and why they are important, of both their potential and limitations, and of the increasingly wide range of contexts in which they are being applied, used and abused.

Module Outline

The first section is entitled ‘Ideas of Rights’ and is designed to address some of the following questions: what is a right? Where do rights come from and what are their foundations and justifications? What are the main critiques of the human rights discourse? Should groups have rights? If so, are they human rights? Is there such a thing as a right to a clean environment? Topics covered include an introduction to the history and philosophy of human rights, classical theories, multi-cultural recognition theory, interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to human rights and universalism versus cultural relativism, environmental rights.

In the second half of this module we will look at ‘Rights in Context’. This section primarily draws on disciplinary insights from political economy, sociology and international relations. It looks at the structures and processes which provide a backdrop to many current human rights debates, claims and violations.

Included in this module are lectures informed by Human Rights Consortium research project themes, including:

  • ecocide and the ecological crisis,
  • globalization and development,
  • corporate power,
  • extreme energy extraction and human rights (based on the Human Rights Consortium's cutting edge research project, the Extreme Energy Initiative - find out more at http://extremeenergy.org)
  • human rights in the UK.

Assessment

3,000 word essay = 55% of the total grade. 
Student-led seminar presentation = 5% of the total grade.
Seminar participation = 10% of the total grade. 
24hr take home exam = 30% of the total grade.

This module is ordinarily taught on Wednesdays. Lectures usually take place from 10.00am to 12.00 and individual classes are held at 12.30 to 1.30pm, 2.30pm to 3.30pm or 3.45pm to 4.45pm.

This module is taught by Dr Damien Short.