The Sociology of Human Rights

Noel Whiteside and Alice Mah, both University of Warwick, wrote an arti­cle for the May 2012 issue of BSA Sociology Journal entit­led "Human rights and ethi­cal rea­so­n­ing: capa­bi­li­ties, con­ven­ti­ons and sphe­res of public action".

This inter­di­sci­pli­nary paper argues that human rights must be under­s­tood in terms of oppor­tu­nities for social par­ti­ci­pa­tion and that social and eco­no­mic rights are inte­gral to any dis­cus­sion of the sub­ject. We offer both a social con­struc­tio­nist and a nor­ma­tive frame­work for a socio­logy of human rights which rea­ches beyond libe­ral indi­vi­dua­lism, com­bi­ning insights from the work of Amartya Sen and from French con­ven­tion theory.

Following Sen, we argue that human rights are foun­ded on the pro­mo­tion of human capa­bi­li­ties as ethi­cal demands shaped by public rea­so­n­ing. Using French con­ven­tion theory, we show how the terms of such deli­be­ra­tion are shaped by dif­fe­rent con­struc­tions of collec­tively held values and the com­pro­mi­ses reached bet­ween them. We con­clude by demons­tra­ting how our approach offers a new per­spec­tive on sphe­res of public action and the role these should play in pro­mo­ting social cohe­sion, indi­vi­dual capa­bi­li­ties and human rights.

Read the full arti­cle.

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