chapter  2
21 Pages

Political science and human rights


The relationship between empirical political science and human rights has evolved since its initial period of engagement through a period of ambivalence, to a more recent era of engagement and systematic analysis, albeit with the persistent and narrow focus on government respect for civil and political rights. Described as an ‘eclectic progressive’ development, the modern form of the discipline started with formal legal-institutional analysis, moved to an almost exclusive focus on individuals (i.e. the ‘behavioural revolution’ and the rise of rationalism), rediscovered the importance of institutions (the advent of the ‘new institutionalism’), while continuously struggling with the question of culture (see Almond 1996; Mair 1996; Landman 2000, 2003, 2008). Arguably, human rights have received more consistent attention in normative political theory than in empirical political science, where arguments for or against human rights have appeared in works that range from the ancient Greek philosophers through to the latest postmodern deconstruc tion of rights discourse (see Rorty 1993; Douzinas 2000; Ishay 2004). Such debates have sought to examine claims for the existence of (human) rights and whether these were based on appeals to divine sources, nature, human reason, or social construction (Rorty 1993; Mendus 1995; Donnelly 1999).