Postgraduate Modules: POL6180 - Human Rights

Module Code

POL 6180

Module Title

Human Rights


Level 4




30 credits

Taught by:

Dr Lisa Stampnitzky

Module Description:

The module offers a critical engagement with the key debates in the theory and practice of human rights. The first section of the module examines the very idea of human rights, asking how human rights ought to be defined, and whether they can or ought to be morally justified. It also looks at some important challenges to idea of human rights: namely that they are ethnocentric, superficial, and have become instruments of power. The second section explores some specific controversies in human rights practice: including such issues as how they are best protected, whether they can tackle such global problems as poverty and environmental degradation, and whether their violation can provide a justification for military intervention.

Module Aims:

This unit aims to introduce students to the principal arguments and debates in the field of
contemporary human rights discussion. By the end of the unit, a candidate will be able to:

  • have the ability to construct and criticise normative arguments in political thought
  • demonstrate knowledge of the historical, legal and moral development of human rights
  • discourse, and of the various theories and arguments underpinning debate about human rights;
  • apply conceptual tools to assess the arguments for and against human rights claims and be able to analyse and clarify contemporary arguments about human rights in both domestic and world politics;
  • demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, including the ability to evaluate advanced concepts and theories, to employ both primary and secondary sources, to present reasoned and effective arguments in written and oral form, to make individual and group presentations (if requested), to pursue independent learning and to show critical judgement.

Module Schedule:

1 Introduction to Course
2 Traditional and Political Theories of Human Rights
3 Anti-Foundational Theories of Human Rights
4 The Relativist Challenge to Human Rights
5 Radical Challenges to Human Rights
6 Implementing Human Rights
7 Restricting Human Rights
8 Human Rights and Poverty
9 Human Rights and the Environment
10 Human Rights and Gender
11 Human Rights and Minority Rights
12 Humanitarian Intervention

Teaching Methods:

  • 12 * 2 hour seminars


  • Essay 1 (2,500 words) - 40% of mark
  • Essay 2 (3,500 words) - 60% of mark

Resources Available:

  • Individual feedback and guidance sessions with module tutors.
  • Detailed 20-page module handbook.
  • Dedicated module site on MOLE2.
  • Extensive library materials, including a wide variety of electronic and digitised resources.

Indicative Reading:

James Nickel Making Sense of Human Rights, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007, 2nd ed.).

Stephen Shute & Susan Hurley (eds.) On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993, (New York: Basic Books, 1993).

J. Tasioulas and S. Besson (eds.) The Philosophy of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Jack Donnelly Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, (New York: Cornell University Press, 2003, 2nd ed.).

Michael Freeman Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Cambridge: Polity, 2002).

Henry Steiner et al (eds.) International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 3rd ed.).

P. R. Gandhi (ed.) Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 7th ed.).

What our Students Say:

“Great module, intellectually stimulating, well organised and fun.”

“The teaching on this course was amazing. The module leader was one of the best teachers I have had at university. Very clear, passionate, and engaging and made the module a really interesting and worthwhile endeavour.”

“This was an excellent module. The seminars were really enjoyable and interesting. I thought they were very well structured, allowing lots of time for focused discussion, which meant I used and developed what I had learnt from the readings and was able to think about its implications and my own views.”