David J Watkins
Focused, comparative examination of legal institutions.
Over the last few decades many philosophers and political and legal theorists have grappled with a host of questions regarding the nature, content, and justification of human rights with increasing sophistication. At the same time, the language of human rights has become an increasingly common one (in legal, political, and moral terms) for numerous activists and social movements around the world. The purpose of this course will be to examine these two trends together, and consider how they might intersect, overlap, or influence each other. In what ways might attention to the theory or philosophy of human rights matter to human rights activists? On the other hand, how might attention to the 'real life adventures' of human rights discourse and activism inform (and possibly improve) the theorization of human rights? To grapple with these questions, we will focus on three categories of class readings. First, works by philosophers and theorists of human rights, such as Henry Shue, William Talbott and Brooke Ackerly. Second, we will read scholarship about the strategies and impact of human rights activism, including research by Kathryn Sikkink and Margaret Keck, Clifford Bob, and Sally Engle Merry. Third, we will read first hand accounts of human rights activism by and about prominent human rights activists: The autobiographies of Jeri Laber (founder of Human Rights Watch and Helsinki Watch) and Shirin Ebadi (an Iranian Human Rights Lawyer).
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
This course will be conducted as a seminar, with students taking a prominent role in discussion leadership.
A background in the study of human rights would be ideal, but is not strictly necessary.
Class assignments and grading
In addition to active participation and discussion leadership, students will be responsible for weekly short (1-2 pages) papers and two 8-10 page papers.
Two 8-10 page papers: 70% Weekly response papers: 15% Discussion and discussion leadership: 15%