What Are Human Rights? Essay

2791 words - 11 pages

Human rights are, and will always be an incredibly complex issue within sociology, and any other social science discipline for the matter. Dealing with human life means encountering multiple ethical and controversial factors, including – what constitutes a human life, how a human should be treated, and whether human rights are universally conceived as the same thing, not just by scholars but by the general public, in different societies worldwide. Consequently, the issue, as Turner (1993) identifies, has been largely ignored within the discipline of sociology. When examining multiple literature, one can conclude that there are different stances to the issue which emphasise the complexity of asking the question “what are human rights”? In the forthcoming paragraphs one shall put forward the argument that human rights are completely and utterly, a social phenomenon, constructed by those in power and entirely relative to the society or organisation in which they are being exerted. To do this, one shall use the sociological literature of Malcolm Waters (1996) to justify and support the argument this essay will be putting forward. Of course, there are limitations to this approach, however to gain some support of comparison, one shall also review the challenging views of a universalistic, approach to human rights, here coined by a sociologist and believer that frailty and human weakness is the factor which enables human rights to be a universal phenomenon – Brian Turner (1993). Walter’s argument was written with Turner’s argument in mind, which brings a more focused, specific response to alternate ideas. Regardless of whether these sociological perspectives exist, what is important is what determines the most useful and one, however, just as similar to human rights, perspectives are subjective and debates obviously have things at stake – nevertheless, a perspective is an opinion and it clearly is evident that many opinions exist, two of which shall be outlined in this essay – and although there are other ones, for the purposes of this essay, one shall only be analysing two, with reference to the right of health and adequate living to demonstrate points clearly. What is also problematic here, is the ambiguity of any claim about human rights. Are the perspectives stating what they empirically see, or what they normatively wish for? This essay shall argue that human rights are not universal, in anyway, and with specific reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN General Assembly, 1948) – will aim to prove that they are completely relativist, depending on the society they are made within, and this can be demonstrated through history and examples. This is the position that should be taken sociologically, and the perspective one shall be arguing from.
Validating a series of rights through one belief alone is consequential. Turner (1993) consequently does this with his theory. Foundationalism is an approach which does not allow room for...

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