PIR-30126 - Human Rights: Concepts, Norms and Identities
Coordinator: Monica Mookherjee Room: CBA1.026 Tel: +44 1782 7 33213
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office:

Programme/Approved Electives for 2024/25


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2024/25

The module examines core understandings of human rights as moral and legal norms that protect all persons from serious violations of their freedom and access to decent standards of living. It considers the normative validity of protections afforded by international human rights covenants to freedom of conscience; due process and access to fair trial; entitlements not to be enslaved or tortured; and to be protected from poverty and genocide.
The first part of the module focuses in particular on theoretical debates surrounding the justification of human rights, inquiring whether interests in rational agency or material wellbeing serve as an adequate source of legitimacy. It examines Rawls' famous Law of Peoples, which claims that the self-determination of non-liberal peoples must be respected, and that liberals cannot justifiably impose sanctions to secure liberal political rights for all citizens of the world. The controversy over global responsibilities is then examined. Does the human right to live free from poverty and malnutrition entail that citizens of rich countries bear 'perfect', or non-negotiable, duties of justice to alleviate global poverty? Or is this not an absolute duty of justice but a matter of charity? Moreover, do rich governments have a duty to refuse to participate in a world order that systemically violates the rights of the world's poor? The later stages of the module pose more specific questions: can historical human rights abuses of apartheid regimes ever be forgiven, and do the formerly oppressed have a duty to relinquish just claims against their oppressors in the name of peace? Finally, the moral individualism presupposed by the concept of human rights is questioned from non-western, post-modern and feminist perspectives.

1. To encourage students to form an understanding of the conceptual and normative basis of human rights.
2. To assist students to explore the problems with and limitations of existing human rights theories by focusing on current debates about world poverty, violence against women, the historical wrongs of apartheid and the complexities of religious diversity.
3. To enable students to acquire subject-specific knowledge as well as employability skills, including the capacity for reasoned argument through writing the essay; for effective planning and preparation through the essay plan; and independent reasoning skills by taking the exam.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Identify and describe major bodies of literature or schools of thought relating to human rights.: 1,2
Demonstrate rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in pertinent readings in human rights theory, as prescribed in the reading-list and, where appropriate, from the students' own searches.: 1,2
Evaluate the persuasiveness of liberal defences of the priority of first-generation human rights compared to prominent alternative perspectives.: 1,2
Compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of varying perspectives on human rights theory with a view to assessing their critical and normative potential.: 1,2

Study hours

20 hours attendance at seminars (2X10 hours)
50 hours preparation for seminars
38 hours revision for examination
3 hours taking the examination
39 hours researching and writing the essay consultation with a member of staff

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Essay weighted 50%
Tutor-assessed essay of 2,500 words
At a specified date towards the end of the teaching programme, students will be asked to submit an essay from a given list of questions. The purpose of this task is to enable the student to analyse independently an area of debate within theories of human rights which engages their critical and logical skills, whilst also prompting them to practise key conventions of academic writing, such as consistent referencing, accurate self-expression and an ability to assess contrary arguments in a reasoned way.

2: Open Book Examination weighted 50%
An open book take home 28 hour examination
An open book, essay-based examination in which students answer two questions from a pre-set list within 28 hours. Students are expected to spend around three hours on this assessment during the assessment window.