International Politics of Human Rights

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

The module focuses on the contestations in the history, institutions and politics of the global human rights regime, in general terms and in relation to specific rights issues, and considers its future prospects.

We begin with a look at the contested history of human rights and ask why arguments about their origins are so persistent and the implications of dominant accounts of origins for contemporary politics of human rights. We then look at the sociology of human rights, using this approach to ask where the politics of human rights are located, and how and with what consequences the human rights ‘movement’ reproduces its moral authority.

We then look at both international human rights norms and the institutions that embody them, including the relationship between rights, humanitarianism and international justice. Then, in the long middle section of the module, we examine a series of core rights issues in more depth, ranging from economic and social rights – including what relation, if any, human rights have to neoliberalism; women’s rights, children’s rights, and gender-based violence; LGBT* rights; states' routine suspension of rights in the name of security ('emergencies') - the new ‘normal’ of the ‘Global War on Terror' that has intensified amid the global pandemic; and the struggle for rights in exile (including, but not limited to, asylum) and, relatedly, the inexorable rise of the carceral state.

In the final 2-weeks, we consider the debates over and prospects for rights in a ‘post-Western’ future (if that is truly what is emerging), and what emergent forms of global solidarity might come to replace them.

Objectives and learning outcomes

  • Critical understanding of major developments and issues in contemporary world politics with reference to key rights domains.
  • Critical understanding of the normative divides informing global contestations in key rights domains, including over ‘human rights’.
  • Critical knowledge of key global policy frameworks impacting rights protections, including globalisation, neoliberalism, ‘countering violent extremism’, etc.
  • Strong independent research skills, writing skills and policy analysis skills in the context of module assessments.


  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week 

Method of assessment

  • Assignment 1: 20%
  • Assignment 2: 80%

Suggested reading

  • Aliverti, Ana. (2014) 'Enlisting the public in the policing of immigration.' British Journal of Criminology 55(2): 215-230.
  • Bob, Clifford. (2012) The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics . Cambridge University Press.
  • Burke, Roland. (2011). Decolonization and the evolution of international human rights . University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Corredor, Elizabeth (2019) ‘Unpacking Gender Ideology and the Global Right’s Anti-Gender Countermovement.’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society . 44(3): 613-638.
  • Featherstone, David. (2012) Solidarity: Hidden histories and geographies of internationalism . Zed Books.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.