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The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Law and Society

  • Date Published: October 2014
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107601635

$ 27.99 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Today, the idea of human rights enjoys near-universal support; yet, there is deep disagreement about what human rights actually are – their true source of origin, how to study them, and how best to address their deficits. In this sweeping historical exploration, Christopher N. J. Roberts traces these contemporary conflicts back to their moments of inception and shows how more than a half century ago, a series of contradictions worked their way into the International Bill of Human Rights, the foundation of the modern system of human rights. By viewing human rights as representations of human relations that emerge from struggle, this book charts a new path into the subject of human rights and offers a novel theory and methodology for rigorous empirical study.

    • Offers a single research framework that will foster the interchange of ideas across disciplines - a common point of departure for the disparate and ongoing study of human rights across disciplines
    • Unlike most histories of human rights, this book offers both high-level theory and methodological proscriptions for the empirical study of human rights
    • Written in narrative form, this book is intended to be extremely accessible and of interest to those who have little or no interest in theory and method
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    • Winner of the 2015 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award, American Sociological Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This book is simply splendid. The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights tackles an issue of tremendous importance today and powerfully demonstrates how the legacies of past injustice are still with us, still shaping international law. It is deeply researched, beautifully written, surprising, devastating. It deserves to make a substantial impact among human rights scholars across the disciplines and carries important lessons for human rights activists as well."
    Elizabeth S. Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, University of Michigan

    "In this paradigm-shifting analysis, Christopher N. J. Roberts demonstrates, through a series of gripping narratives, the strength of a new interdisciplinary scaffolding for the study of rights: from human rights as would-be possessions of individuals to human rights as the markers of emergent struggles for power and control over social relationships and institutional arrangements, especially those concerning race and inequality. The book is a brilliant achievement that will forever change the conversation about the meaning and emancipatory potential of human rights today."
    Margaret R. Somers, University of Michigan

    "This book is an ambitious and well-executed historical analysis of the struggles that led to the formulation and ultimate adoption of the International Bill of Human Rights. It sustains an argument as convincing as it is provocative: that the long acknowledged gap between human rights ideals and practice is not simply the result of a lack of political will or enforcement capacity, but can rather be traced to fundamental ambiguities and contradictions built into the agreements themselves. Both analytically rigorous and eminently readable, this book will be required reading for any serious student of human rights. Legal scholars, but also social scientists, historians and engaged citizens of the world community should all find something of interest here."
    Robert S. Jansen, University of Michigan

    'This book … opens the door for other interpretative histories that explore the contestations of human rights from the diverse perspectives of people in other parts of the global North and South.' Bonny Ibhawoh, Canadian Journal of History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107601635
    • length: 255 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. What are human rights and where do they come from?
    2. From war and politics to human rights: the Cold War and colonial recession
    3. Protecting state sovereignty from the 'dangers' of human rights
    4. Saving empire: the attempt to create (non)universal human rights
    5. A version of human rights that permits racial discrimination?
    6. The United States' unequivocal ambivalence towards socioeconomic rights.

  • Author

    Christopher N. J. Roberts, University of Minnesota Law School
    Christopher N. J. Roberts is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Sociology. His research spans the areas of human rights, citizenship, social theory, concept formation, and jurisprudence.


    • Winner of the 2015 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award, American Sociological Association

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