New Scholarship on Human Rights

Human rights in politics and academia is ubiquitous and the literature on it ever-expanding. Yet much of what I hear and read is much of a piece, which is why I thought it would be interesting to highlight three (relatively) recent books that, I think, are developing the most interesting studies and new understandings of human rights. The texts don’t represent a cohesive agenda but rather reveal lines of connection through three (at least) different disciplines – and as I suggest below, collectively they contribute to an important and emerging way of rethinking human rights, particularly for those who are critical of the role human rights play in justifying the actions of powerful states and coercive interventions.

The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law Between the Global and the Local, edited by Mark Goodale & Sally Engle  Merry (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Human Rights and Social Movements, by Neil Stammers (Pluto Press, 2009)

Silencing Human Rights: Critical Engagements with a Contested Project, edited by Gurminder K. Bhambra & Robbie Shilliam (Palgrave, 2009)

My own research on human rights is in global ethics and international political theory, but I have found myself increasing dissatisfied with the account of human rights as a political practice offered in many contemporary works. Within philosophy and political theory, empirically grounded human rights research is particularly lacking, but even within political science and international law there is a dearth of good critical work based in historical or contemporary analysis of how human rights are actually put to use. Continue reading