Undergraduate Modules: POL368 - Contemporary Rights Theory

Module Code

POL 368

Module Title

Contemporary Rights Theory


Level 3


Semester 2 (Spring)


20 credits

Taught by:

Dr Alasdair Cochrane, Lecturer in Politics

Module Description:

The module aims to introduce student to the nature and development of contemporary rights theory in its legal, moral and political dimensions, with particular reference to areas of conflict and debate. Issues covered include the following: the nature of rights; universal human rights and the relativist challenge; debates over the judicial enforcement of rights; the balancing of rights; socio-economic rights; minority rights; animal rights; and the rights to life and death.

Module Aims:

On completion of this module students should be able to demonstrate an in depth and wide-ranging understanding of the historical, analytical, philosophical and moral dimensions of contemporary rights theory. By the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an effective knowledge of the key areas of contemporary rights debates and be able to identify the key thinkers and schools of thought associated with these debates, such as to be able to evaluate the relative merits of different approaches to rights discussion.
  • Apply these conceptual tools and issues, gleaned from their analysis of rights discussion, with intellectual dexterity and be able to analyse and clarify contemporary debates on rights in both domestic and world politics.
  • Show appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, including the understanding of complex concepts and theories, exercising critical judgement, making effective oral and written presentations, utilising primary and secondary sources, and deepening the capacity for independent learning.

This module also equips students with a range of important transferrable skills, which are vital in terms of employability, including working independently and as part of a team; managing a varied workload; assimilating and synthesising multiple data sources; constructing coherent arguments; and preparing written reports and verbal presentations.

Module Schedule:

1 Introduction
2 Rights Talk
3 Human Rights Talk
4 Protecting Rights
5 Balancing Rights
6 Rights, Poverty and Wealth
7 The Rights of Minority Groups
8 Animal Rights
9 The Right to Life
10 The right to Death
11 Revision Session

Teaching Methods:

  • 11 * 2 hour seminars


  • Essay - 50% of mark
  • Exam - 50% of mark

Resources Available:

  • Individual feedback and guidance sessions with module tutors.
  • Detailed 20-30 page module handbook
  • Dedicated module intranet site.
  • Extensive library materials, including a wide variety of electronic and digitised resources.

Opportunities for Further Study:

There is also the opportunity to deepen your knowledge by undertaking a supervised research project module an agreed topic arising out of work done on POL 368. Students meet with their tutor individually for tailored one-to-one supervision and tuition, which will enable them to undertake research and be assessed on the basis of a 7,000 word project.

To find out more about the research project modules on offer, click here

Indicative Reading:

Campbell, T. (2005) Rights: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Routledge.

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

Jones, P. (1994) Rights. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Nickel, J. (2007) Making Sense of Human Rights, second edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shute, S. and Hurley, S. (eds.) (1993) On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Waldron, J. (ed.) (1985) Theories of Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

What our Students Say:

"My favourite module I've taken during my degree. Well structured seminars, informative and interesting. Also loved all the required readings online."

"One of the best modules. Very engaging and stimulating. The content is sometime challenging but Prof. Cochrane always addressed the most difficult questions and tried to enhance our understanding."

"The biggest positive of this module was the leader, he is very approachable and enthusiastic. Some of the topics are particularly interesting (abortion / euthanasia) which make writing the essay more bearable than usual."