What are human rights? Four schools of thought

Marie-Benedicte Dembour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A close reading of academic literature reveals that we do not all conceive of human rights in the same way. This contribution proposes that "natural scholars" conceive of human rights asgiven; "deliberative scholars" asagreed upon; "protest scholars" asfought for; and "discourse scholars" astalked about. The position of each of these four schools on the foundation, universality, possible realization, and legal embodiment of human rights is reviewed, as well as is the schools' faith, or lack thereof, in human rights. Quotations from academic texts illustrate how the four school model cuts across the academic disciplines with examples drawn from philosophy, politics, law, and anthropology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Rights Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2010


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