Spring 2024 - POL 417 D100

Human Rights Theories (4)

Class Number: 7628

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Eight upper division units in political science or permission of the department.



This course introduces students to the problems involved in the assertion of universal moral standards across political and cultural divides. These issues will be explored at a theoretical level, and in the context of specific human rights controversies.


This seminar will explore key concepts and approaches in making universal claims of human rights today — notably when ethical and legal norms are asserted across political and cultural divides. If “dignity” is the basis for modern human rights principles, how does this play out with regard to specific claims to autonomy, political participation, and wellbeing? How do global level claims (universal rights) relate to the local, not only with respect to sovereignty but also culture and ideology? What is the role of civil society in articulating and advancing such claims?

We will first consider leading theories, before looking at how particular rights are framed in practice since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, followed by an array of international treaties. This will be situated in contexts that are both Canadian and global – mindful of radical shifts after Sept 11, 2001, and amid fresh concerns about environmental justice and the rights of Indigenous peoples. An interactive format will be adopted throughout the semester. Multimedia resources will supplement our texts, and students will be expected to fully engage with these in their course assignments.     


  • Review Report 30%
  • Participation 20%
  • Presentation 20%
  • Final Essay 30%


Active participation, with attendance in all sessions, is expected. A presentation to the class is required, as are a midterm review report and a final paper. Late submissions will incur a penalty of 20% / day.   



Goodhart, Michael. Human Rights: Theory and Practice, 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2022.

Additional readings will be posted on Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

The Department of Political Science strictly enforces a policy on plagiarism.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html