Human Rights, Interdisciplinary Scholars, and a New Blog

Human rights have become a kind of lingua franca. Human rights function as legal claims, political values, and even as a moral language. Around the world, activists invoke human rights to advocate for political reforms. Lawyers claim that human rights are implicated in order to add moral weight to legal claims. National leaders voice their respect for human rights in order to bolster their image on national and international stages. Diplomats use accusations of human rights violations as tools to gain leverage over other countries. An international bureaucracy monitors the status of human rights in nations around the world.

For scholars, the subject of human rights provides a host of avenues for research, discussion, and debate. Philosophers, political scientists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists - all have weighed in on one aspect or another of human rights. Their conversations are almost never self-contained within one discipline. Historians trying to write a history of human rights inevitably have to grapple with the philosophers who have tried to define human rights. Philosophers draw on historical and sociological descriptions of practice to help define the human rights conversations to which they try to bring analytical rigor.  Political scientists and legal scholars frequently debate whether human rights law makes a difference, and if so, how. 

Scholars who engage the topic of human rights find themselves confronted with a massive and multi-disciplinary literature.  The subject of human rights can bring out the best of inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary scholarship: exciting conversations develop among people working in diverse fields. But "human rights" scholarship can also illustrate all the pitfalls and challenges of a truly multi-disciplinary field. Sometimes debating scholars talk past each other rather than to each other, their misunderstandings exacerbated by different methodological approaches. Sometimes a writer in one discipline dismisses the concerns of another due to disciplinary tunnel vision. And sometimes scholars working in one area miss the relevant conversations going on in some other corner of the academy because there's just too much to read and keep up with.

That's where this blog comes in. We're going to keep our eyes out for interesting work on human rights from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and post about it here. We also will periodically bring in guest bloggers to talk about their work and to reflect on current topics and challenges for human rights scholars. We hope that readers from any discipline will find this a helpful way of sampling the wide range of scholarship that's coming out all the time and is relevant to the study of human rights.

We're still putting together our regular blogging team. If over the summer it seems like the blog skews its coverage toward particular corners of the human rights conversation, bear with us. As the editor, I'll be posting over the next few weeks before you see any additional blogging voices join the conversation. And I'm inevitably going to do a better job covering scholarship that relates directly to my own research areas (law, history, law and religion) than covering other disciplinary conversations. But we'll balance that out as we bring more people on board with the blogging team.

In the meantime, if you're reading this post, let me know your thoughts - ideas for features, tips for new (or forthcoming) scholarship that we should link to, or just subjects that you'd like to see us cover.  Thanks for visiting, and we hope you stay tuned for more!

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Lael Weinberger is a J.D./Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago's law school and history department. Follow him on Twitter @LaelWeinberger.