Human Rights: Legal Aspects

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


International {Encyclopedia} of the {Social} & {Behavioral} {Sciences} ({Second} {Edition}), Elsevier, Oxford, p.375–379 (2015)





African human rights, Betweenness, Discipline, HUMAN rights, Human rights activism, Human rights instruments, Human rights movement, international human rights, international law, Law, rights, Social life, Transnational activist network


Human rights can be viewed from legal and sociolegal perspectives. From a legal perspective, human rights are the rights derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights instruments; they are enforced on both international and domestic levels. Sociolegal perspectives, embedded within the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, and international relations, instruct that human rights are not constrained only by law; they have their own history, sociology, social life, and transnational activist networks. The issue may be posed whether the field of human rights has moved beyond a topic of interdisciplinary research to become a distinct discipline.

Law and Personhood

The assembling of a new set of South African and global citizenships has taken on new urgency and a new plurality twenty years after the supposed advent of freedom. Categories make persons and persons make categories, as Jones and Dlamini have recently pointed out. In the South African constitutional text – where the phrase ‘categories of persons’ is written – race is but one of sixteen categories on the formal list. The Constitutional Court has added more.  Indeed, the effort of desegregating publics now takes place without the freshness of new symbols and with potentially stale institutions. In the public sphere, some responses to this era of citizenship reformation harken back to earlier times – either to times of forward-thinking, to times of social-making, or even to times of separating. Other responses rest in a consumptive present or appear as mere promised rhetorical bridges into the future. In this project WISER will examine the new questions that scholars in law, society and the humanities are posing themselves and others. What are the complex fashions in which bounded enclaves and social categories are fraying and unravelling or reforming? How, if at all, are persons remaking themselves as citizens? At the same time that these questions pose themselves, new fields of play are emerging with the changing audiences of the fashion shops and the sports terrains as well as the changing forms and formats of affluence and the new middle class. The very concept of a person as well as their categorical boundaries may shift with the movement of blood, organs, and self-awareness.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.