Academic journal article Development and Society

Individual Freedom and Human Rights Community: A Sociological Intervention*

Academic journal article Development and Society

Individual Freedom and Human Rights Community: A Sociological Intervention*

Article excerpt

Regaining access to the social within human rights discourse requires a new sociological imagination. This paper formulates the concept of human rights community and, with this, attempts to grasp the social dimension of human rights which diminishes significantly today as overshadowed by increasing individual empowerment. The social here refers to the process in which individuals are transformed from a legally entitled yet socially isolated rights-bearer to an active participant in constructing community life through collective collaboration. Although not opposed to individual empowerment, this interactive dimension of human rights development is more complex and calls for careful attention. The social means that citizens shape the community in a way that is democratic and communicatively open and inclusive. This aspect of human rights development has been built into the classical concept of popular sovereignty and institutionalized into political democracy via representation. Recent experiences of human rights cities tend to revitalize this dimension within the context of local politics. However, sociological imagination remains to be fully further explored to grasp genuinely bottom-up aspect of human rights development in everyday life. With this objective, this paper attempts to clarify the concept of a human rights community and potential tension by examining freedom of expression as epitomized by the example of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy of 2005. A discussion follows to show the main characteristics of the social constructionist approach to justice and human rights and the affinity between the idea of a human rights community and Asian culture, particularly a hidden assumption of Chinese discourses on human rights. Based on these reflections, an attempt will be made to examine the conditions and characteristics of the school as a human rights community and to explore the significance of recent experiences of a human rights city as well.

Keywords: individual freedom, human rights community, Jullands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy, human rights city, sociological intervention, social construction of justice and human rights, Asian culture, Chinese focus on human rights, school as human rights community

Introduction

The key objective of this paper is to formulate the concept of human rights community and, with this concept, explore the social dimension of human rights development, which is suggested to be more complex and balanced than the overall focus on individual empowerment. Reinserting "the social" into human rights discourse calls for a new sociological imagination. This paper is intended to be a critical intervention to explore the active side of citizens' participation in creating a community they want. Individuals can claim the right to a healthy community as its member. This aspect of human rights development indicates that an individual can act not only as a legally empowered yet socially isolated (self-centered) subject seeking his/her personal (private) interests but also as a subject pursuing collective (public) interests to make their communities healthy and thriving. Although not opposed to individual empowerment, this interactive dimension of human rights development is more complex and calls for careful attention.

This paper begins with conceptual clarification: 1) the notion of a human rights community is defined in a preliminary way; 2) two dimensions of the human rights community are distinguished; 3) tension and conflict within human rights discourse is illustrated through freedom of expression as epitomized by the example of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy of 2005, and three relationships are formulated between these two dimensions. Internally, the human rights community demands an approach to justice and human rights, which is more sociological than legal. Thus, a discussion follows to show 4) the main characteristics of the social constructionist approach to justice and human rights, and then 5) affinity between the idea of a human rights community and Asian culture is revealed. …

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