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Human Rights as Social Construction


  • Page extent: 272 pages
  • Size: 229 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.37 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9781107612945)

Most conceptions of human rights rely on metaphysical or theological assumptions that construe them as possible only as something imposed from outside existing communities. Most people, in other words, presume that human rights come from nature, God, or the United Nations. This book argues that reliance on such putative sources actually undermines human rights. Benjamin Gregg envisions an alternative; he sees human rights as locally developed, freely embraced, and indigenously valid. Human rights, he posits, can be created by the average, ordinary people to whom they are addressed, and that they are valid only if embraced by those to whom they would apply. To view human rights in this manner is to increase the chances and opportunities that more people across the globe will come to embrace them.

• Not just theory; shows how to apply human rights to various circumstances • Interdisciplinary; draws on philosophy, sociology, anthropology and jurisprudence • Full of empirical and historical examples • Explains how individuals can themselves be the authors of the human rights addressed to them


Part I. This-Worldly Norms, Local Not Universal: 1. Human rights: political not theological; 2. Human rights: political not metaphysical; 3. Generating universal human rights out of local norms; Part II. This-Worldly Resources for Human Rights as Social Construction: 4. Cultural resources: individuals as authors of human rights; 5. Neurobiological resources: emotions and natural altruism in support of human rights; Part III. This-Worldly Means of Advancing the Human-Rights Idea: 6. Translating human rights into local cultural vernaculars; 7. Advancing human rights through cognitive re-framing; Part IV. Human Rights, Future Tense: Human Nature and Political Community Reconceived: 8. Human rights via human nature as cultural choice; 9. The human-rights state; Part V. Coda: 10. What is lost, and what gained, by human rights as social construction.


'Benjamin Gregg's book advances an idea of the local and particular that, while normatively rich, invites an openness to universal norms as well. While denying any easy answers to the moral universalist, the argument is well placed to fend off many of the familiar skeptical objections to the idea of human rights. Professor Gregg writes with urgency and clarity, and his book should be read by both cosmopolitans and their critics.' Richard Vernon, Distinguished University Professor, University of Western Ontario

'In a lively style, Gregg engages a topic both familiar and urgent: the status of human rights. Gregg shows why the traditional question about human rights - are they universal, or local and parochial - is misplaced. Rights are both. To be actual, they must be worked out and justified locally. But their local force requires that there be something universal about them. With verve and conviction, Gregg shows how the 'human rights state' is a workable ideal.' Russell Muirhead, Robert Clements Associate Professor of Democracy and Politics, Dartmouth College

'Benjamin Gregg's brilliantly reasoned, strikingly original, and profoundly challenging approach to human rights theory and practice may be the most significant contribution on this theme in the last decade. It deserves the widest possible reading and debate.' Richard A. Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice, Princeton University

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