Human Rights, Social Justice and Social Change

The details
Human Rights Centre (Essex Law School)
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
20 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Until very recently, it was frequently claimed that human rights were the dominant moral instruments for regulating global politics and law. Indeed, many went so far as to claim that we were living in an age of human rights. Is this still true today?

Human rights are increasingly challenged from a variety of perspectives. Indeed, an increasing number of people describe the global human rights project to be in a state of real crisis. With human rights increasingly challenged, it is vitally important that we are able to understand the basis and extent of this challenge, in order to overcome the challenge. This module provides an opportunity to do just that. We will situate the theory and the practice of human rights within the broader moral and political contexts within which contemporary human rights unfolds. We will also connect theory with practice in order to examine key spheres in which the challenge to human rights occurs.

Module aims

The module will address a number of key issues and challenges, including;

1. How do morality and politics specifically affect the basis and application of human rights law?
2. Human rights are typically thought to be based upon core ideals such as equality and individual liberty. However, equality and individual liberty mean very different things to different people. The core ideals human rights are based are contested and controversial. What effects does this have upon the theory and the practice of human rights?
3. It has often been said and more often simply assumed that human rights and democracy are mutually supportable and indivisible. What, then, are the implications of the emergence of “populism” within many liberal democracies for human rights within those societies? Can “democracy” destroy human rights?
4. Harm plays a vital role in identifying what constitutes a human rights violation. What is harm? How do differing approaches to particularly social harm affect areas of human rights practice such as transitional justice and cultural diversity?
5. Identity is increasingly important within a growing number of communities’ and individuals’ claims to human rights. Is identity politics ultimately compatible with human rights?
6. It is typically assumed that human rights provide a key vehicle for the pursuit of political, social and economic justice. However, the conceptual and practical connections between human rights and theories of justice are often poorly understood. This module addresses key elements of the relationship between justice and human rights.
7. A growing body of literature is critical of human rights. How should the human rights community understand and respond to these challenges?

Module learning outcomes

On successfully completing this module, students should be able to:

1. Identify and evaluate the core normative foundations of human rights
2. Understand the relationship between key moral traditions and human rights law
3. Understand the role of politics within the theory and practice of human rights
4. Understand the role of core ideals (eg. freedom, equality and dignity) as the basis and scope of human rights mechanisms and instruments
5. Critically analyse the relationship between concepts such as democracy justice and human rights
6. Developed a satisfactory knowledge and understanding of key theories of justice and how these influence the theory and practice of human rights
7. Critically analyse the role of identity in the theory and practice of human rights
8. Acquire an understanding of key critiques of and critical perspectives upon contemporary human rights law and institutions

Module information

Indicative themes

1. Introduction: politics and morality in human rights
2. Contested ideals – liberty
3. Contested ideals – equality
4. Theories of Justice & human rights
5. Democracy and human rights
6. Poverty and human rights
7. Theories of Social Movements and Social Change
8. Theories of harm and human rights
9. Contemporary critiques of human rights

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught via weekly 2-hour seminars. The module teaching team will upload all relevant teaching materials on Moodle. You will find reading lists, the textbook, weekly handouts or PPS notes on Moodle. The materials in question are designed both to help you navigate the material to be covered in the seminars and to equip you to analyse the required readings. You will be expected to have completed the required readings in advance of your seminars.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (HU928 Human Rights Social Justice and Social Change)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Aoife Duffy, email:
Law Education Office,



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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