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Understanding human rights

Module information>

Academic Direction
School of Advanced Study
Also part of
MA Human Rights
Modes of Study

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.

Topics covered

Section 1 - ‘Ideas of Rights’

  • What is a right and what are the main critiques of the human rights discourse?
  • Introduction to the history and philosophy of human rights, classical theories, multi-cultural recognition theory, interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches to human rights
  • Universalism versus cultural relativism, environmental rights

Section 2 - ‘Rights in Context’

  • Disciplinary insights from political economy, sociology and international relations
  • Structures and processes which provide a backdrop to many current human rights debates, claims and violations.

Learning outcomes

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.


This module is assessed by a seen written examination (70% of the overall grade), and three E-tivities (30%).