Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To enable students to investigate the historical, philosophical and legal development of human rights discourse
  • To enable students to develop the conceptual skills needed in assessing the arguments for and against human rights
  • To develop advanced knowledge and understanding of human rights debates in domestic and world politics
  • To gain advanced knowledge about the historical traditions behind different approaches to human rights.


  • The module looks at the historical, philosophical and legal development of the human rights discourse. It consists of three parts. Part one covers the historical and philosophical foundations of human rights. It addresses the relation between natural law and natural rights, the role of natural rights during the American and the French revolutions, and the relation between natural and human rights. It then raises the philosophical questions about why human rights are important and whether we need them. Different arguments of justifying human rights are being assessed.
  • Part two looks at ‘anti-human rights’ perspective as present in different philosophical schools of thought. It examines the utilitarian, conservative, legal positivist, Marxist, nationalist, communitarian and multicultural critiques of human rights. Part three turns to the specific human rights that dominate the contemporary rights discourse in domestic and world politics. First, the module will address some human rights that fall into the scope of the domestic politics, like cultural, group or indigenous rights, and women’s rights. Secondly, it addresses the link between human rights and international law with special attention to the issues of genocide, humanitarian intervention, and immigration.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • At the end of the module students should have the ability to master the complex and specialised area of knowledge and skills concerning:-
  • Detailed knowledge and understanding of the key arguments and debates in contemporary human rights discussion.
  • Detailed knowledge and understanding of the arguments in defence of human rights, as well as of the critical responses to the human rights discourse.
  • Knowledge about the emergence of international law concerning rights violations and the various complex legal, philosophical and moral issues arising from such developments.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the origin of rights debates in the natural law tradition and in the philosophical argumentation of the American and French revolution.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to demonstrate:-
  • The ability to use, criticise and evaluate relevant advanced political arguments, and to develop their own independent arguments for or against certain perspectives on human rights
  • An understanding of the complex relationship between the cultural and historical context of different human rights arguments and the advanced analytical skills to explain how such arguments can have application in a wider, or a contemporary, context.
  • The advanced ability to interpret, analyse and critically assess primary and advanced secondary texts and assess the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to demonstrate:-
  • The ability to understand, evaluate and engage with advanced scholarship in a particular area.
  • The ability to work to a deadline and complete written work within word limits.
  • Advanced essay-writing skills
  • Research skills in identifying relevant primary and secondary texts by using relevant data sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources.
  • Fluency of argument and depth of analysis in written work.
  • The capacity to work independently

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • An introductory lecture will explain the module content and the way it is organised. The lecture will outline the main themes and provide a summary of the main historical and contemporary perspectives on human rights. It will be followed by a one-hour tutorial in which student presentations will be assigned and questions may be asked about the content and aims of the module.
  • The primary mode of teaching will be by two-hour seminars. Students will be required to undertake specified reading prior to each seminar; this is a minimum requirement and it is expected that students will supplement this with their own reading. The work of the seminar will include individual presentations and guided discussions where all students will be expected to make a contribution. The purpose of the presentation is to introduce the main reading for the seminar and to outline its key arguments. The discussion will provide all students with the opportunity to engage with a wider range of texts and commentaries and to express independent judgement on their meaning and significance. The seminars will enable the students to develop their abilities to express ideas and defend them against possible criticisms, to learn from alternative theoretical perspectives, to explore issues and arguments in greater depth, and to receive feedback from both the group and the lecturer on their own understanding and presentation.
  • The modes of learning through seminar presentations, seminar participation, and essay writing will enhance the student’s capacity to organise their material and ideas and to develop independent research and analysis within a supportive learning environment.
  • Students are required to submit a 1500-word formative essay half way through the module. This enables them to practice their essay-writing skills, to assess their own progress, and to receive feedback on whether they are achieving at the appropriate level, whether they are sufficiently informed, and they are expressing themselves appropriately. This will be a good preparation for the 4,000 words summative essay which students are required to submit at the end of the module. This will require students to research, prepare and write a highly analytical essay that displays knowledge of theoretical issues and an ability to relate these to practice through the analysis of contemporary human rights discussions. This exercise enables students to demonstrate that they have sufficient subject knowledge to meet the assessment criteria, that they have achieved the subject skills and that they have also acquired the key skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 1 1 overall 1 hours 1
Tutorials 1 1 overall 1 hours 1
Seminars 8 weekly 2 hours 16
Student Preparation & Reading - Assignments 66
Student Preparation & Reading - Revision 66
SLAT Totals 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 4,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

A formative essay of 1500 words by the end of the fourth week of term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University