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

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


Forthcoming titles

  1. Richard Bellamy, Constitutionalism
  2. Garrett Wallace Brown, Cosmopolitanism
  3. Craig Calhoun, Community
  4. Ben Colburn, Autonomy
  5. Keith Dowding, Rational Choice
  6. John Gearson, Terrorism
  7. James Gow, War
  8. Bob Jessop, The State
  9. Keith Krause, Security
  10. Chandran Kukathas, Multiculturalism
  11. Barbara Marshall, Sexuality
  12. Cillian McBride, Recognition
  13. Christopher Phillipson, Ageing
  14. Lord Raymond Plant, Citizenship
  15. Hilary Silver, Social Exclusion
  16. Leslie Thiele, Sustainability