Sociology 202
An Introduction to Human Rights

Fall 2005
Professor Thomas Cushman

The idea of human rights is one of the most powerful ideas in the modern world. This course offers an overview of the central ideas of human rights from the time of the French Revolution to the present, and the various ways in which these ideas have been put into practice in various societies, both historically and in the present. It explores the history of the contemporary human rights system, its underlying philosophy, and its growth and development over the last few decades. This includes the diversification of rights to include social, economic and cultural rights and the collective rights of indigenous peoples as well as a growing role for non-governmental organizations. The course examines the ongoing controversy between human rights’ claims to universalism in contrast to assertions of cultural difference. Special topics include the mobilization of human rights as a cultural resource, critical sociological analysis of global bureaucratic systems which purport to promote human rights, the uses and abuses of the idea of human rights in political life, the history and practice of humanitarianism as an ideology, and pros and cons of military humanitarian interventions. In the Fall 2005, we will use new materials just published which offer debates about human rights issues in relation to the war in Iraq.

Required Books:

Orend, Brian, Human Rights, Concept and Context. Broadview Press, 2001

Lynn Hunt, ed., The French Revolution and Human Rights,. Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996

Jane K. Cowan, Marie-Benedicte Dembour, and Richard A. Wilson (eds.). Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Clifford Bob, The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Princeton University Press, 2001.

Richard Ashby Wilson, ed. Human Rights and the “War on Terror,” Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Thomas Cushman, ed., A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, University of California Press, 2005.

Additional required articles will be available on the electronic course reserve on the general course conference on First Class.


Grading Policies: Attendance and participation is required for all classes. The course grade is based on the following:

1. Two papers of five to seven pages: 20 percent each. Topics and deadlines will be announced in class.
2. Mid-term take home examination due on Thursday, November 10 by 4:30 in the main office of the Sociology Departments : 20 percent
3. In-class final examination: 30 percent. You are responsible for all class lectures and readings on the examination and you will be provided with a set of review questions.
4. Attendance and participation: 10 percent. Short written assignments, which will be the basis of class discussions will be given once every two weeks.
5. Students should come to class having read all the material for each class period. To facilitate class discussions, the professor will, from time to time, call on people in class. If you are not present, this will be noted.

Statement on Open Discussion of Controversial Issues: This course deals with contemporary issues which are provocative and controversial. A requirement of the class is a willingness to listen to and debate others’ points of view. There is no requirement to accept any view, but toleration is crucial. All students in the class, as well as the instructor, have their own political and ideological views: the classroom is not a place for foisting one’s views on others, but for consideration of a diversity of views. If you are not comfortable with lively and vigorous debate, in which your views will be challenged and in which you may freely challenge others’ views (including the professor’s), you should not take this class.

Part I: The History and Philosophy of Human Rights

September 8-15 : Definitions, Concepts, and Ideas of Human Rights

Orend, Chapters 1-4
Michael Ignatieff. Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, in entirety

September 19-26: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives on Human Rights

Orend, Chapters 7 and 8
Morton Winston, “Philosophical Conceptions of Human Rights” (ER)
A. Belden Fields, “The Birth of the Human Rights Idea” (ER)
Thomas Hobbes, “The Leviathan” (ER)
John Locke, “Second Treatise on Government,” (ER)
Jean Jacques Rousseau “The Social Contract” PHR pp. 80-87 (ER)
Thomas Paine, “African Slavery in America” (ER) and at:
Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” at:
The American Declaration of Independence (ER)
The US Constitution Bill of Rights (ER)
Hunt, The French Revolution and Human Rights, in entirety
Mary Wollstonecraft “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” (ER)
Mary Cady Stanton, “The Seneca Falls Declaration” (ER)

September 29-October 6: Classical Critiques of the Idea of Human Rights:

Orend, Chapter 6
Jeremy Bentham, “Anarchical Fallacies” (ER)
Edmund Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (ER)
Karl Marx, “The Jewish Question” (ER)

First paper due in class on Thursday, October 13

Part II. Culture and Rights: Universalism and Relativism

October 13-17: The Universalism/Relativism Debate

Cowan,, Culture and Rights, Introduction and chs. 1-5.

October 20-27: Cultural Rights and Indigenous Rights in Practice.

Cowan, et. al. Part II.

Part III: Human Rights as a Process and Institution

October 31 – November 7: Human Rights as Mobilization of Resources and Rebellion

Clifford Bob, The Mobilization of Rebellion, in entirety

November 10: Guest Speaker, Fernando Teson, Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar, Professor of Law, Florida State University, “Liberalism and Humanitarian Intervention” – Professor Teson will be speaking with our class and offering a college wide talk as well.

November 14 – 21: The Role of NGOs and the North/South Divide

Claude E. Welch, Jr. "Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: A Comparison." (ER)
Mutua, Makau. "Human Rights International NGOs: A Critical Evaluation." (ER)

Take-Home Mid-Term Due on November 17 in class

November 28-December 1: The United Nations Commission on Human Rights: History, Function, and Critique

Human Rights Watch, “Libya Should Not Chair the Human Rights Commission,”at:
“ U.S. voted off U.N. Human Rights Commission,” Facts on file. 61, no. 3153, (2001): 342.
“Libya to chair U.N. Human Rights Commission.”
Facts on file : 3241, (2003): 26 (1 pages) Libraries Worldwide: 2022
(both above articles can be found at Lexis-Nexis on the Wellesley College Library page)
Committee on International Relations, US House of Representatives, “The UN Commission on Human Rights: Protector or Accomplice?” at:
Anne Bayevesky, “A Dictator’s Dream”at:

Part IV: Humanitarianism and Humanitarian Intervention

December 5-12 : Humanitarian Intervention and Human Rights in Contemporary international Society: The Case of Iraq

Thomas Weiss, “Principles, Politics, and Humanitarian Action.” (ER)

Thomas Cushman, ed. A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, chapters to be assigned.

Richard Wilson, ed. Human Rights in an Age of Terror, chapters to be assigned.