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.