International relations

The Reign of Rights in Global Politics

Module code: L2140DUD
Level 6
30 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Not yet finalised

Proponents and opponents alike would today concur that human rights are becoming the world's secular religion (Eli Wiesel). This course systematically interrogates the rise of human rights to such prominence. Early on, the module examines the history and evolution of rights within the history of western liberalism and introduces the prominent ways of defining and understanding human rights. It then explores new theorisations of rights as practices of governing and forms of subjectification in global politics. Moreover, the course discusses well-known critiques of the universality of human rights and their Western-centric conception of the human.

Following these initial sessions, the module analyses the challenges that rights present to state sovereignty and examines the violent global politics associated with human rights, such as the emergence of human rights wars (Beck) and the more recent, often racist, trade-off between rights and security within the ensemble of practices we call the 'war on terror'.

Finally, the course reflects on the link between human rights and power: how might we make sense of the apparent tension between human rights as essential to both the sustenance of hegemony and to the politics of resistance? Moreover, it investigates the use of rights in our practices of resistance, analysing how rights delegitimise other paths of action whilst inciting rights-holders as appropriate political subjectivities (Foucault). It discusses the expansion of human rights into emergent areas such as women's rights, indigenous rights, economic rights etc (you will be able to select specific cases for further research and presentation to suit your particular interests) and explores the ways in which human rights talk becomes the hegemonic register in which to articulate and legitimate dissent and social/political action. The module concludes by discussing problems of human rights advocacy by NGOs and poses the philosophical and practical question of who can speak on behalf of sub-altern others (Alcoff).

The assessment for this module is a research plan due in week 7 (weighted 10%) and a long term paper of 6,000 words (weighted 90%). The teaching method is a three-hour seminar, though this includes a 50-minute talk by the convenor each week.