International Studies | Human Rights & Social Movements
I204 | 22213 | Rathbun


Human Rights & Social Movements (INTL-I204)
This class will serve as an introduction to the issue of human
rights and the social movements that affect them. Human rights are
those rights to which all individuals are entitled to in order to
ensure their dignity. These rights are an international phenomenon.
When they take place only within a society, disputes and conflicts
over basic rights are generally just discussions about civil rights.
It is generally when they attract international attention or involve
international action that we begin to talk of human rights.
Therefore all of the issues we will deal with in this course involve
action across borders and relations among countries.

Our primary issue will be human rights. We will address social
movements in light of that topic. Social movements play both a role
in realizing human rights, for instance through the work of
transnational organizations like Amnesty International, but they are
also often associated with gross violations of human rights, as is
the case with violent independence movements or fascism.

The class will not only consider contemporary dilemmas in human
rights, such as humanitarian intervention, but also historical
questions such as how we can explain progress in human rights such
as the end of the slave trade and the creation of laws of war. A
recurrent theme will be how human rights are understood differently
at different times in history and in different geopolitical
contexts. Our concerns will be both empirical and normative. We want
to understand how human rights have evolved over time, where they
have been respected and where they have been violated and why. But
we also want to grapple with ethical questions such as how much of a
concern human rights should be in America’s foreign policy, or
whether there is a universal definition of what rights to which all
individuals are entitled.