The Global Politics of Human Rights: History, Theory and Practice (L2140)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

This module systematically interrogates the rise of human rights.

You examine the history and evolution of rights within the history of western liberalism and are introduced to the prominent ways of defining and understanding human rights.

You then explore new theorisations of rights as practices of governing and forms of subjectification in global politics. Moreover, you discuss well-known critiques of the universality of human rights and their Western-centric conception of the human.

Following these initial sessions, you analyse the challenges that rights present to state sovereignty and examine 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, you'll reflect on the link between human rights and power and, moreover, investigate the use of rights in our practices of resistance.

You discuss the expansion of human rights into emergent areas such as women's rights, indigenous rights and economic rights. You'll be able to select specific cases for further research and presentation to suit your interests.

You also explore the ways in which human rights talk becomes the hegemonic register in which to articulate and legitimate dissent and social/political action.

Finally, you discuss problems of human rights advocacy by NGOs and address the philosophical and practical question of who can speak on behalf of sub-altern others (Alcoff).

Teaching and assessment

We’re currently reviewing teaching and assessment of our modules in light of the COVID-19 situation. We’ll publish the latest information as soon as possible.

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 30 hours of contact time and about 270 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We’re planning to run this module in the academic year 2020/21. However, there may be changes to this module in response to COVID-19, or due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. It may not be possible to take some module combinations due to timetabling constraints. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: