[skip to content]

Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice

Human Rights Futures

Human Rights Futures is a collaborative project between CCRJ co-directors, Leslie Vinjamuri and Stephen Hopgood, and Professor Jack Snyder, Columbia University.   

The value of global human rights is widely proclaimed by advocates who assert that universal norms will sustain their appeal in a world of rapidly shifting global trends in economic power, political leadership, and social mobilization. On this orthodox view, nothing more than minor tactical adjustments in strategies of rights promotion are needed to keep the momentum going.  The Human Rights Futures project will critically assess this claim on a number of dimensions. We divide human rights advocacy and scholarship along three dimensions: mainstream orthodoxy, critical conditional optimism, and structural pessimism. The orthodox account is the most familiar version of global human rights. It prioritises individual over group rights, civil and political over economic and social rights, and universality over particularity. While recognizing that perfect rights compliance cannot really be achieved immediately, its rhetorical stance is to demand exactly that, and its tactics resist the sacrifice in principle of any human rights to realize a greater good. Critical conditional optimism, in contrast, broadly accepts the goal of a world where basic rights are widely embedded but is skeptical that the strategies employed by orthodox advocates will improve global human rights outcomes. Structural pessimism, in turn, is sceptical about whether human rights have the capacity to deliver genuine improvements in human well-being at all. Pessimists may even see the rights project as a hegemonic ideology to be actively resisted.