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Applying Human Rights - POL00044M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Eric Hoddy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module is based on a simple premise: that human rights practice and implementation requires a new local, process-oriented, and non-state actor focused approach to human rights. This approach stands in contrast to the traditional approach to human rights that focuses on international norms and institutions, and is state-centric. As such, insights from the social sciences become key to human rights activism. The module is split into two sections. The first section on the ‘inter-disciplinarity of human rights’ provides background on human rights activism and institutions, and the insights diverse disciplines can provide on two particular issues: freedom of expression/hate speech, and social and economic rights. The second section on ‘the social sciences and human rights practice’ explores ways in which the social sciences help us understand and tackle key practical dilemmas:

  1. How can human rights communicate with new audiences and engage with cultural diversity?
  2. How should human rights research be conducted?
  3. What means are available to measure impact and evaluate human rights work?
  4. How should we anticipate and alter responses to human rights campaigns, specifically from perpetrators and the general public?
  5. How should human rights practice facilitate agency (resistance, participation, empowerment, mobilisation)?
  6. What theories of change underpin human rights work?

Throughout the module seminars will focus on the work of the York: Human Rights City (YHRC), a network of which CAHR is a member. In April 2017 the network succeeded in establishing York as the UK’s first ‘human rights city’, with the support of the City Council, civil society groups, and the general public. To build on this development requires that we establish a ‘culture of human rights’ in the city, for which we have deployed the local, process-oriented, and non-state actor focused approach outlined above. This work links the local to the global, developing strategies and insights that are of relevance to settings beyond York.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Use insights and methods from the social sciences to inform and advance human rights claims;
  • Understand the basic framework of international human rights law and how to apply it in diverse local contexts;
  • Understand the range of actors who can be considered human rights defenders, and the varied organisational and professional settings in which they work;
  • Advise human rights defenders and organisations about the advantages and disadvantages of particular strategies in specific contexts; and
  • Use reflective practice to draw insights from written material and personal experience.


Task Length % of module mark
Reading Diary (4,000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment
As formative assessment, students should produce a 500 word piece summarising and critically engaging with the arguments set out in two module readings. The assessment should be submitted at the lecture in week 3, and the readings discussed should be from weeks 1 or 2. Feedback will be provided by week 7. The formative assessment should be submitted and will be returned in the seminar of the relevant week.

Summative assessment
Summative assessment will consist of a 4,000 word reading diary. This should reference at least 6 references recommended as module readings, and address the topics from at least 3 weeks. The diary needs an introduction and conclusion, which set out the argument you are making and how you are linking the references cited into a coherent whole. Please feel free to cite material not included on the reading list, and unconventional sources e.g. You Tube videos. Other forms of creativity are also encouraged e.g. re-reading texts more than once, for example returning to texts after the South Africa or York placements. But the basic requirements of 6 readings, across 3 weeks should be fulfilled. This diary will contribute 100% to your total mark, and it must be submitted on Monday, 1pm, Week 1, Spring Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Reading Diary (4,000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Background reading
O. Ball and P. Gready. No-nonsense Guide to Human Rights. New Internationalist: Oxford, 2006.

A. Clapham. Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction. OUP: Oxford, 2007.

R. Falk. Achieving Human Rights. Routledge: New York, 2009

D. Forsythe. Human Rights in International Relations. Cambridge University press: Cambridge, 2012 (3rd edition).

M. Freeman. Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Polity: Cambridge, 2002.

M. Goodhart (ed.) Human Rights: Politics and Practice. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2009.

B. Gregg. Human Rights as Social Construction. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2012.

T. Landman. Studying Human Rights. Routledge: Abingdon, 2006.

S. Marks and A. Clapham. International Human Rights Lexicon. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2005.

R. Smith and C. van den Anker. The Essentials of Human Rights. Hodder Arnold: London, 2005.

P. Alston and R. Goodman, International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, and Morals. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2012.

Background reading on YHRCN
Background reading on YHRCN will be provided on the VLE.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.