Key Concepts

Human Rights 2nd Edition

Michael Freeman


Human Rights is an introductory text that is both innovative and challenging. It invites students to think conceptually about one of the most important and influential political concepts of our time. In this unique interdisciplinary approach, Michael Freeman emphasizes the complex ways in which the experiences of the victims of human rights violations are related to legal, philosophical and social-scientific approaches to human rights.

By tracing the history of the concept, the book shows that there is a fundamental tension between the philosophy of human rights and the way in which it is understood in the social sciences. This analysis throws light on some of the most controversial issues in the field: Is the idea of the universality of human rights consistent with respect for cultural difference? Are there collective human rights? Should feminists embrace, revise or reject the idea of human rights? Does the idea of human rights distract our attention from the structural causes of oppression and exploitation? What are the underlying causes of human rights violations; and why do some countries have much worse human rights records than others?

The book will appeal to students in the social sciences, as well as students of human rights law who want an introduction to the non-legal aspects of their subject. It will also be read by scholars interested in ethics and the social sciences, as well as the general reader. This is a substantially revised edition that takes account of recent events such as the ‘war on terror’ and the global economic crisis of 2008.

About the Author

Michael Freeman is a Reader in Government at the University of Essex.

Table of Contents

  • Preface to the Second Edition
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Thinking about Human Rights
  • Origins: the Rise and Fall of Natural Rights
  • After 1945: the New Age of Rights
  • Theories of Human Rights
  • Putting Law in its Place: the Role of the Social Sciences
  • Universality, Diversity and Difference: Culture and Human Rights
  • Idealism, Realism and Repression: the Politics of Human Rights
  • Globalization, Development and Poverty: Economics and Human Rights
  • Conclusion: Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century



“Michael Freeman has provided a comprehensive, well-informed and intelligent discussion of the contemporary theoretical and philosophical debates in human rights. Crucially, Human Rights contextualizes its subject, deftly illustrating the lasting contribution of humanities and social science analyses of the non-legal aspects of human rights. Freeman manages to be both even-handed and incisive in his commentary and this textbook will appeal to novices and experts alike.”

— Richard A. Wilson, University of Connecticut

“Michael Freeman's second edition of Human Rights is, like the first, very well written. In addition, it is very well grounded in history and normative political theory. Moreover, it accurately summarizes much literature in the social sciences dealing with both empirical theory and factual evidence. We now have a collection of non-legalistic introductions to internationally recognized human rights, and this is one of the best. The author is to be commended for updating and otherwise sharpening his fine first edition.”

— D. Forsythe, University of Nebraska

“When Polity published Human Rights in 2002, it filled a void. Finally, there was a book that introduced the concept with all its complexities but in a clear style. Freeman’s systematic approach and passionate prose guided readers through a labyrinth of history, disciplines, and issues and allowed them to develop an understanding of the history of human rights, along with a range of debates and conflicts surrounding them. The layered analysis made the book equally attractive to the experts. Now, nearly a decade later, we have more books on human rights, but none to replace Freeman’s. The second edition, still maintaining the original structure and broad scope, points to the elements of progress amidst ever increasing human rights violations, albeit in a rapidly changing world. In addition to explicit statements on human rights violations being rooted in misuse of power, it presents references to the significance of power structures. Including important questions about the ultimate impact of humanitarian intervention or the UN’s Millennium Declaration, the book incites the reader – scholar or activist – to be critical, reflective, and alert at all times..”

— Zehra F. Kabaskal Arat, Purchase College

Available titles

Sort by author | title

  1. Barbara Adam, Time
  2. Alan Aldridge, Consumption
  3. Alan Aldridge, The Market
  4. Jakob Arnoldi, Risk
  5. Will Atkinson, Class
  6. Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer, Disability
  7. Darin Barney, Network Society
  8. Mildred Blaxter, Health 2nd edition
  9. Harriet Bradley, Gender 2nd edition
  10. Harry Brighouse, Justice
  11. Mónica Brito Vieira and David Runciman, Representation
  12. Steve Bruce, Fundamentalism 2nd Edition
  13. Busfield, Mental Illness
  14. Margaret Canovan, The People
  15. Andrew Jason Cohen, Toleration
  16. Alejandro Colás, Empire
  17. Mary Daly, Welfare
  18. Anthony Elliott, Concepts of the Self 3rd Edition
  19. Steve Fenton, Ethnicity 2nd edition
  20. Katrin Flikschuh, Freedom
  21. Michael Freeman, Human Rights 2nd Edition
  22. Russell Hardin, Trust
  23. Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality
  24. Geoffrey Ingham, Capitalism
  25. Fred Inglis, Culture
  26. Robert Jackson, Sovereignty
  27. Jennifer Jackson Preece, Minority Rights
  28. Gill Jones, Youth
  29. Paul Kelly, Liberalism
  30. Cillian McBride, Recognition
  31. Anne Mette Kjær, Governance
  32. Ruth Lister, Poverty
  33. Jon Mandle, Global Justice
  34. Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips, Development
  35. Judith Phillips, Care
  36. Chris Phillipson, Ageing
  37. Michael Saward, Democracy
  38. John Scott, Power
  39. Timothy Sinclair, Global Governance
  40. Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism 2nd Edition
  41. Deborah Stevenson, The City
  42. Leslie Paul Thiele, Sustainability
  43. Stuart White, Equality
  44. Steven Vallas , Work
  45. Michael Wyness , Childhood
  1. Capitalism, Geoffrey Ingham
  2. Care, Judith Phillips
  3. Ageing, Chris Phillipson
  4. Concepts of the Self 2nd Edition, Anthony Elliott
  5. Consumption, Alan Aldridge
  6. Culture, Fred Inglis
  7. Democracy, Michael Saward
  8. Development, Anthony Payne and Nicola Phillips
  9. Disability, Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer
  10. Empire, Alejandro Colás
  11. Welfare, Mary Daly
  12. Equality, Stuart White
  13. Ethnicity 2nd Edition, Steve Fenton
  14. Freedom, Katrin Flikschuh
  15. Fundamentalism 2nd Edition, Steve Bruce
  16. Gender 2nd Edition, Harriet Bradley
  17. Global Justice, Jon Mandle
  18. Global Governance, Timothy Sinclair
  19. Governance, Anne Mette Kjær
  20. Health 2nd Edition, Mildred Blaxter
  21. Human Rights, Michael Freeman
  22. Justice, Harry Brighouse
  23. Representation, Mónica Brito Vieira and David Runciman
  24. Liberalism, Paul Kelly
  25. Recognition, Cillian McBride
  26. The Market, Alan Aldridge
  27. Mental Ilness, Joan Busfield
  28. Minority Rights, Jennifer Jackson Preece
  29. Nationalism, Anthony D. Smith
  30. Network Society, Darin Barney
  31. The City, Deborah Stevenson
  32. Sustainability, Leslie Paul Thiele
  33. The People, Margaret Canovan
  34. Toleration, Andrew Jason Cohen
  35. Poverty, Ruth Lister
  36. Power, John Scott
  37. Risk, Jakob Arnold
  38. Work, Steven Vallas
  39. Childhood, Michael Wyness
  40. Youth, Gill Jones