Human Rights: Politics of Human Rights

Mo 2:00PM - 5:00PM / 4430 Wesley W Posvar Hall / CRN 29781

PS 2675 – Politics of Human Rights

This course seeks to understand human rights politically by surveying the vast normative and empirical literature on the topic.  It is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic that situates human rights within and beyond the existing political science literature on the subject.  We’ll read works by international relations scholars (e.g., on treaty ratification and compliance), comparativists (on studying human rights performance and violations), moral and political philosophers (on justifying human rights), lawyers (on the international human rights regime), anthropologists (on the translation of human rights from global to local contexts and on the so-called "social life of human rights,"), sociologists (on human rights and social movements), historians (on the evolution of the human rights regime), and critical theorists (on human rights as neo-imperialism) in trying to make sense of human rights as a political phenomenon.  Students will create brief research proposals and write literature reviews for projects on human rights. 

Sample readings (this is not the final list, and not necessarily in order)

1.      Pheng Cheah, Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights (Harvard 2007)

2.      Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice 3rd ed. (Cornell 2013)

3.      Costas Douzinas, Human Rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (Routledge 2007)

4.      Mark Goodale and Sally Engle Merry, The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law between the Global and the Local (Cambridge 2007)

5.      Emilie Hafner Burton, Making Human Rights a Reality (Princeton 2013)

6.      Stephen Hopgood, The Endtimes of Human Rights (Cornell 2014)

7.      Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (Princeton 2003)

8.      Rajan Menon, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention (Oxford 2016)

9.      Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard 2012).

10.  Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon, The Human Right to Dominate (Oxford 2015)

11.  Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink, The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance (Cambridge 2013)

12.  Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge 2009)

13.  Neil Stammers, Human Rights and Social Movements (Pluto 2009)

14.  William Twining, Human Rights, Southern Voices: Francis Deng, Abdullahi An-Na'im, Yash Ghai and Upendra Baxi (Cambridge 2009)


Number of Credits


Michael Goodhart

Course Term


Course Category

Category C: Cultural Antagonisms and Cultural Crises

Course Year