SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

International Politics of Human Rights

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module focuses on the history, institutions and politics of the global human rights regime, and considers its future prospects. It begins with a look at the current contested history of human rights asking why myths about their origins are so persistent and at how their advocates claim they impact on the world. We also look at whether or not we ought to see human rights as ‘Western’ and at the relationship between global human rights institutions at the local, national and transnational levels. Lectures then focus on the contemporary politics of human rights in several key areas: The war on terror and torture, the International Criminal Court, the Responsibility to Protect and gender and sexual identity. We also look at underlying social changes and ask whether there is now a ‘market’ for human rights that makes suffering a commodity, and at whether human rights and humanitarian organizations will increasingly take divergent paths in the next decade. Finally, we look at the idea of ‘Eastphalia’ and at claims that we are entering a phase of ‘post-Western politics’ heralded by (relative) American decline. Has the global human rights regime reached its limits? Will it recede in the face of religious and nationalist resistance? Will this fuel a revitalized sovereignty-first agenda at the United Nations?


  • One-hour lecture per week
  • One-hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

This is an optional 15-credit module based around the research expertise of Dr Hopgood. The objectives of the module are to give students a grounding in the history and practice of human rights and to allow them to develop and write a piece of research work on an issue or case study of their choice within international human rights politics. It will be taught by means of a one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar each week.

Method of assessment

The key learning outcome of the module is for students, in association with the module lecturer, to develop their research skills in the area of international normative politics with particular reference to human rights. To do this, the students will, in consultation, develop an understanding of key puzzles in the field, develop a basic research design based on a case study to address them, and write this study up in the form of a 5000-word assessed research paper. This will prepare them well for undertaking further research work in this area. This is then complemented by a participation grade that incentivises students to do the required reading and participate in class. These combined mechanisms will enable students to revise and test their knowledge and apply it in formulating their research topic, question and plan before submission. All of this will be done in consultation with the convenor.

Suggested reading

  • Avant, Deborah D, Martha Finnemore and Susan K Sell. Who Governs the Globe? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Barnett, Michael and Martha Finnemore. Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics (Cornell University Press, 2004).
  • Barnett. Michael. Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell University Press, 2011).
  • Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity, 2000).
    Bob, Clifford. The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • Bob, Clifford. The International Struggle for New Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
  • Borgwardt, Elizabeth. A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights (Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2005).
  • Brysk, Alison. Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • Busby, Joshua W. Moral Movements in Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • Chouliaraki, Lilie. The Spectatorship of Suffering (London: Sage, 2006).
  • Cmiel, Kenneth. ‘The emergence of human rights politics in the United States,’ The Journal of American History, vol. 86, no. 3 (1999).
  • Doh Chull Shin, Confucianism and Democratization in East Asia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • Donini, Antonio (ed.) The Golden Fleece: Manipulation and Independence in Humanitarian Action (Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2012).
  • Douglas, Lawrence. The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust (Yale University Press, 2003): 41.
  • Douzinas, Costas. The End of Human Rights (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000).
  • Fassin, Didier and Richard Rechtman. The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood (Princeton University Press, 2009).
  • Golder, Ben. ‘Foucault and the unfinished human of human rights,’ Law, Culture and the Humanities, vol 6, no 3 (2010).
  • Guilhot, Nicolas. The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
  • Hafner-Burton, Emilie. Making Human Rights a Reality (Princeton University Press, 2013).
  • Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig. (ed) Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  • Hopgood, Stephen. Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International (Cornell University Press, 2006).
  • Hunt, Lynn. Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2007);
    Iriye, Akira, Petra Goedde and William I Hitchcock (eds), The Human Rights Revolution: An
  • International History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • Keck, Margaret and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists Beyond Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in World Politics (Cornell University Press, 1998).
  • Kindornay, Shannon James Ron and Charli Carpenter, ‘Rights-based approaches to development: Implications for NGOs,’ Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 34, Number 2, May 2012, pp. 472-506.
    Lauren, Paul Gordon The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen second ed., (Penn Press, 2003).
  • Lumsdaine, David Halloran. Moral Vision in International Politics (Princeton University Press, 1993).
  • Magone, Claire. Michael Neuman and Fabrice Weissman (eds) Humanitarian Negotiuations Revealed: The MSF Experience (London: Hurst & Company, 2011): 179.
  • Mazower, Mark. No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton University Press, 2009.
  • Moyn, Samuel. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2010).
  • Neier, Aryeh. Taking Liberties: Four Decades in the Struggle for Rights (New York: Public Affairs, 2003).
  • Neier, Aryeh. The International Human Rights Movement: A History (Princeton University Press, 2012).
  • Neumann, Iver B. and Ole Jacob Sending. Governing the Global Polity: Practice, Mentality, Rationality. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010).
  • Nossel, Suzanne. ‘Smart power: reclaiming liberal internationalism,’ Foreign Affairs, April-May 2004.
  • Normand, Roger and Sarah Zaidi. Human Rights at the UN: The Political History of Universal Justice. (Indiana University Press, 2008).
  • Oberleitner, Gerd. Global Human Rights Institutions (Cambridge: Polity, 2007).
  • O’Flaherty Michael and John Fisher, ‘Sexual orientation, gender and identity and international human rights law: Contextualising the Yogyakarta principles,’ Human Rights Law Review, vol 8, no 2, (2008):
  • Orbinski, James An Imperfect Offering: Dispatches from the Medical Frontline (London: Rider Books, 2008).
  • Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002).
  • Rao, Rahul. Third World Protest: Between Home and the World (Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Rasch, William 2004. Sovereignty and Its Discontents: On the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political. (London: Birkbeck Law Press, 2004).
  • Risse, Thomas Stephen Ropp and Kathryn Sikkink (eds). The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  • Risse, Thomas, Stephen Ropp and Kathryn Sikkink (eds) The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance (Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • Sands, Philippe. Lawless World: The Making and Breaking of Global Rules. (London: Penguin, 2006).
  • Scheffer, David. All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Trials (Princeton University Press, 2012).
  • Shklar, Judith N. Legalism (Camb., MA: Harvard University Press, 1964): 10.
  • Sikkink, Kathryn. The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics (New York: W W Norton & co, 2011).
  • Simmons, Beth. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Snyder, Jack and Leslie Vinjamuri, ‘Trials and errors: principle and pragmatism in strategies of international justice,’ International Security, vol. 28, issue 3 (Winter 2003/2004).
  • Sung Won Kim, David P Fidler and Sumit Ganguly, ‘Eastphalia rising? Asian influence and the fate of human security,’ World Policy Journal, (Summer 2009): 53-64.
  • Tate, Winifred. Counting the Dead: The Culture of Human Rights Activism in Colombia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).
  • Teitel, Ruti G. Humanity’s Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • Weiss, Thomas G. Humanitarian Business (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).
  • Zolo, Danilo. 2002. Invoking Humanity: War, Law, and Global Order (London: Continuum)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules