Not available in 2022/23
SO4B3      Half Unit
Seeing like an NGO: Human Rights in Practice

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Monika Krause STC.S207


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

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Places are allocated based on a written statement, with priority given to students on the MSc in Human Rights and MSc in Human Rights and Politics. This may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

This module invites students to examine practices in human rights NGOs as a case for the sociology of knowledge and expertise. The course will familiarise students with theoretical and analytical tools, which sociologists use to understand expert practices and practices in organizations, as well as with current sociological research on international NGOs. Students will be asked to participate in two simulation activities as part of this module:  In one session, students will work in teams to develop advocacy projects. In a separate, day-long activity, we will study professional standards in human rights and related fields and then meet to review evidence on a specific setting – the ongoing crisis in the fictional context of Ruritania. Working in different teams, students will develop proposals for concrete interventions that might further human rights in Ruritania. We will reflect on the simulation in terms of the assumptions and knowledge-claims we have made and encountered and their implications for broader sociological questions. We will discuss conclusions in three areas: First, we can discuss conclusions in terms of questions in the sociology of expert practice; second, we will discuss conclusions in terms of skills students have used, and might need to develop; thirdly, we will discuss what our observations mean for how we can best pursue practical goals relating to social change and human rights.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, online materials, seminars and simulations totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the LT.

This course includes a day-long session on the Saturday of week 7 or week 8. Please make sure to check your calendar before enrolling on this course.

These teaching arrangements may change if online teaching is required at any point during the Lent Term.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in LT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students have the option of handing in a formative essay of 1,500 words addressing knowledge practice in a field other than human rights in week 6. If completed by the deadline, students will receive feedback within two weeks.

Indicative reading

  • Becker, Howard. 1984. Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Krause, Monika. The Good Project. Humanitarian Relief and the Fragmentation of Reason. Chicago: Chicago University Press
  • Latour, Bruno and Steven Woolgar. 1985. Laboratory Life. The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • O'Flaherty, Michael (2007) The Human Rights Field Operation. Law Theory and Practice. London: Ashgate.
  • Barnett, Michael. 2002. Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.
  • Bob, Clifford. 2005. The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cooley, Alexander and James Ron, “The NGO Scramble: Organizational Insecurity and the Political Economy of Transnational Action,” International Security 27, no. 1 (2002): 5-39.
  • De Waal, Alex. 2003. “Human Rights, Institutional Wrongs.” In Rethinking International Organizations: Pathology and Promise, edited by Dennis Dijkzeul and Yves Beigbeder. New York: 234-260.
  • DfId. 2001. Guidance on Using the Revised Logical Framework. London: 2011.
  • Kanter, Rosabeth M. 1977. “Managers” and “Secretaries.” Ch. 3-4 in Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic Books.
  • Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. Geneva: The Sphere Project, 2011.
  • Stevens, Alex. 2006. “Telling Policy Stories: An Ethnographic Study of the Use of Evidence in Policy-making in the UK.” Journal of Social Policy 1:1–19
  • Taplin, Dana H. and Helene Clark: Theory of Change Basics. A Primer on Theory of Change. ActKnowledge: New York 2012.
  • Weber, Max. 1996. Bureaucracy, in: Essays in Sociology. London: Routledge, pp. 196-216.
  • Wong, Wendy. 2012. Internal Affairs: How the Structure of NGOs Transforms Human Rights. Ithaka Cornell University Press.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

For their assessment students will complete an essay that does not exceed 5000 words in length. The essay will respond to an analytical provocation by drawing on observations from the simulation activities.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the first Wednesday of Summer Term.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2021/22: 39

Average class size 2021/22: 20

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication