Contemporary Politics of Human Rights

This information is for the 2020/21 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.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, online materials and seminars totalling a minimum of 40 hours across MT and LT.

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

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.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the submission day.

Attendance at all classes and submission of all set coursework is required.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2019/20: 48

Average class size 2019/20: 48

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

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