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Universal human rights have become one of the most powerful legal and political instruments of our time but many of their founding presuppositions still remain unquestioned. This course is all about posing questions of human rights. In the process we will come to a better understanding of the limits and the possibilities of human rights for global politics and social justice. In this course we will thus: explore the 'politics of human rights' by examining the historical origins and philosophical bases of human rights; discuss several key critical analyses of human rights; and, finally, look at some case studies of human rights in operation (incl. international development, terrorism and security, humanitarian intervention).

Main Topics:

  • Introduction: Human Rights Today
  • A Brief History of HR: Natural Rights, Revolutionary Declarations, Post-WWII Global Instruments
  • Normative Philosophical Justifications for HR
  • Classical Critiques: Bentham, Marx and Burke
  • The Refugee and the Nation-State: Arendt and Agamben
  • Human Rights and Biopolitics: Foucault and Agamben
  • Feminist Critiques of HR
  • Critical Race and Postcolonial Critiques of HR
  • Theorizing Contemporary Political Deployments of HR
  • Futures of Human Rights?
Faculty Faculty of Law
Study Level


Indicative contact hours


Conditions for Enrolment

Prerequisite: Completion of 78 UOC in LAWS courses including either Legal Theory (LAWS2320), Law and Social Theory (LAWS2820) or Theories of Law and Justice (LAWS2326).

Course Outline

To access course outline, please visit:

Pre-2019 Handbook Editions

Access past handbook editions (2018 and prior)

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