Studying Human Rights module (PO31016)

On this page


Module code


Module Aims

The aims of this module are: 

  • to introduce you to how human rights have been studied in political science
  • to encourage you to grapple with the concepts, theories, and methods that have been used to study human rights
  • to challenge you to analyze complex human rights problems and make informed arguments on these issues
  • to give you the opportunity to evaluate human rights reports and lead an informed discussion on these reports
  • To give you the option to obtain real world experience in human rights monitoring
  • to facilitate the development of oral presentation and essay writing skills

Module Details

This module will introduce you to the political science of human rights. You will be encouraged to engage with the concepts, theories, and methods that have been used to study human rights.

The first section of the module will address the main debates related to the study of human rights, and introduce students to key human rights concepts and institutions.

The next section examines the approaches, methods and measures that have been adopted in political science to conduct research in this area.

The last week will apply these concepts and measures to explain “the gap” between standards and practice.

The module is designed to provide you with the basic research skills you will need to work for human rights organizations. 

You will also have the option of doing human rights monitoring to obtain additional experience of collaborating with an NGO and doing real world research.

Indicative Content:

  • Foundations of human rights
  • Universalism versus relativism, categories and generations of human rights
  • International human rights law and institutions
  • The political science of human rights
  • Concepts and methods in measuring human rights
  • Focus on evaluating specific human rights measures
  • The option to undertake human rights monitoring of a real world case and write a report on the measures used in the monitoring activity


This module will be delivered through one weekly lecture over 11 weeks and one weekly seminar. Additional group training sessions will be held for students who take on the option of collaborating with an NGO, Scholars at Risk, and doing real-world research.

A video on the background of Scholars At Risk can be found on YouTube.


Assessment consists of three components: essay 45%, presentation 10% and report 45%.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, you should have:

  • knowledge of the basic literature and normative debates in human rights
  • knowledge of the analytical skills necessary for research in human rights
  • basic skills necessary to evaluate the methods and evidence used in academic, policy, and advocacy research
  • improved oral skills and essay writing skills

You will be able to analyse and present on the key normative debates in human rights and the methodological issues concerning human rights measurement.


Indicative Reading

  • J. Donnelly., Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. (Cornell University Press, 2003).
  • M. Freeman., Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach. (Polity Press, 2005).
  • M. Goodhart., (ed.) Human Rights: Politics and Practice. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009).
  • T. Landman and E. Carvalho., Measuring Human Rights. (Routledge, Abingdon, 2010).

Further Reading

  • Haas, Michael (2008) International Human Rights: A Comprehensive Introduction, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Landman, Todd (2005) Protecting Human Rights: A Comparative Study, Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
  • Landman, Todd (2006) Studying Human Rights, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Landman, Todd (2008) Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics: An Introduction, 3rd edition, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Jabine, T. and R. Claude (1992) Human Rights and Statistics: Getting the Record Straight, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Carey, Sabine, C., Mark Gibney and Steven C. Poe (2010) The Politics of Human Rights: The Quest for Dignity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nickel, James (2007) Making Sense of Human Rights: Philosophical Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, University of California Press.
  • Fagan, Andrew (2009) Human Rights: Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings, Edward Elgar.
  • Fagan, Andrew (2010) The Atlas of Human Rights: Mapping Violations of Freedom Around the Globe, University of California Press.
  • Simmons, Beth (2010) Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


30 credits


This module is available on following courses: