The construction of human rights: dominant approaches

M. Anne Brown

in Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print August 2002 | ISBN: 9780719061059
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700365 | DOI:
The construction of human rights: dominant approaches

Show Summary Details


In his work on human rights in international relations, R. J. Vincent states that ‘human rights’ is a readily used term that has become a ‘staple of world politics’. This chapter examines some of the orders of thought that dominate human rights promotion and shape the meaning of this powerful, complex and in some ways contradictory tool of rights and ‘rights talk’. First, it considers the polarity of universalism and relativism that structures much of what it is possible to say on human rights. Second, it looks at the story of the Lockean social contract, as one still potent myth of the origin for human rights and more broadly as a mechanism for conceptualising the human political community and ethics in the liberal state. The chapter questions the adequacy of these constructions for responding to the complexity of systemic infliction of injury. It then looks at the dominant theoretical accounts of international politics that have formed a central platform for the debate and, to some extent, for practice regarding rights in the international arena.

Keywords: human rights; rights promotion; international relations; international politics; rights talk; universalism; relativism; social contract; political community; ethics

Chapter.  17478 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.