Book Chapter Details
Mandatory Fields
Herrmann, P. and Ó hAdhmaill, F.
2020 April
Intenational Human Rights, Social Policy and Global Development: Critical Perspectives
The Historical Development of Concepts of Rights
Policy Press/Bristol University Press
Optional Fields
Human Rights International Human Rights Social Policy and Human Rights Global Development and Human Rights
This chapter discusses the historical development of ‘rights’ and how these transformed into ideas about ‘universal human rights’. It shows how the concept of rights developed historically from notions of legal through to political, social/economic and cultural rights and from individual to group rights. It describes how thinking about rights has developed from identifying rights solely with clans, tribes, communities, ethnic groups and then nation states, to linking them to all humanity - including minorities - through concepts of universal human rights. It recognises the contribution of philosophical ideas about humanity, equality, democracy and social justice, as well as the impact of human agency on the development of a range of rights, and argues that such developments do not take place in a vacuum (Donnelly, 2013: 75-92). Social, economic, ideological, cultural and geo-political influences engender our power to change society and ensure that human rights are a contested site. Rights are contested in their conceptualisation and in the development of oversight mechanisms. They are also contested in their implementation, enforceability and realisability on the ground (Freeman, 2017). In essence, it is argued that humans make human rights. As Karl Marx (1851-52) wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past’ (Marx, 1851: 103).
McCann, G. and Ó hAdhmaill, F.
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