Contemporary Politics of Human Rights

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Chetan Bhatt STC.S107


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Human Rights and Politics. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

The course is capped but a limited number of places are usually available to students from outside the MSc in Human Rights and Politics who wish to take this as an option. 

Priority is usually given to postgraduate students in the Sociology Department. The course is also available as an outside option for other MSc degrees where regulations and numbers permit. Students from other programmes who wish to apply for a place on the course must complete the online application form on LSEforYou stating reasons for wishing to take the course.

Course content

During a period of unprecedented change in social, political, technological and cultural spheres, key human rights institutions and ideas have come under sustained criticism or attack. After the Second World War, an international consensus emerged in which the legitimacy of a framework of universal rights and related institutions was generally accepted. This consensus can no longer be assumed, whether within or outside formally liberal-democratic states.  Human rights, as a powerful exemplar of political liberalism, have been criticised for their institutionalised, procedural and legalistic nature. They have come under sustained attack from authoritarian and populist states and movements. This interdisciplinary course examines many of the sharp tensions and contradictions in the contemporary politics of human rights. This includes the relevance of humanist foundations today, tensions in the practice of human rights, the populist right-wing and left-wing attacks on human rights, the rise of new identity politics and its human rights consequences, and the impact of social media on human rights. The course aims to critically examine the problems of - as well as the problems facing - contemporary human rights. Key topics that are often considered settled within much human rights thinking and practice, including the politics of identity, sameness and difference, cultural and religion, gender and sex, humanitarianism and war, will be examined and debated critically. The course considers how we might rethink human rights and humanism for a new period of political change.


30 hours of seminars in the MT. 30 hours of seminars in the LT. 5 hours of seminars in the ST.

There will be a Reading Week in Week 6 of both Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

The course content is delivered through combined lecture-seminars that employ group work.

Formative coursework

Students should submit two formative essays, 1500 words each, one in Week 10 of Michaelmas Term and one in Week 10 of Lent Term.

Indicative reading

Javier Auyero and Débora Swistun. 2009. Flammable. Environmental Suffering in an Argentine Shantytown. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Markus Gunneflo. 2016.Targeted Killing: A Legal and Political History. New York. Cambridge University Press

Elizabeth Holzer. 2015. The Concerned Women of Buduburam: Refugee Activists and Humanitarian Dilemmas. Cornell University Press

Monika Krause. 2014. The Good Project. Humanitarian Relief NGOs and the Fragmentation of Reason. Chicago University Press.

Sally Engle Merry. 2016. The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking. University of Chicago Press.


Essay (50%, 3500 words) in the LT Week 1.
Essay (50%, 3500 words) in the ST Week 1.

Two hard copies of the assessed essay, with submission sheets attached to each, to be handed in to the Administration Office, S116, no later than 16:30 on the day of submission. An additional copy to be uploaded to Moodle no later than 18:00 on the same day.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills