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This MA examines contemporary issues concerning justice. You will learn how to conceptualise and study the possibilities of human rights, going beyond legal formulations to look at the conditions in which human rights claims are made.

Human rights mobilise millions of supporters across borders, inspiring passion and hope. And they operate at and between all the scales involved in globalisation: local, national, international, transnational. They are moral claims to justice. Although often associated with law, human rights are not the same as legal rights – human rights can be claimed where no legal rights are codified, even if changes in the law are invariably called for as part of attempts to realise human rights in practice. 

Human rights are carried by different actors:

  • grassroots social movements, small Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and huge International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs)
  • lawyers and judges
  • bureaucrats and experts in Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) even, sometimes, national politicans
  • journalists, novelists, translators, artists, film-makers

These different actors are often at odds with each other in defining and defending particular justifications of what human rights are and should be. 

In this Masters you will learn about how human rights are constructed, exploring framings of human rights through case studies; and you will begin to practice some of the methodologies and methods that are currently used in NGOs and grassroots activist networks trying to remedy global injustices. 

The focus on culture that runs through the programme makes for an emphasis on concrete, situated practices and meanings. Can human rights contribute to a global culture in which injustices figure as ‘wrongs’? Or are human rights invariably skewed, constructing injustices in ways that suit international elites better than they suit people who are suffering? Do human rights do violence to local cultures? Are they an appropriate response to local violence? In this MA we contextualise the study of how human rights are constructed in micro-processes, in the media and face-to-face in relation to debates over macro-structures, processes of globalisation and the institutions of global governance. 

In terms of social justice, the MA is set up to study human rights beyond narrow, legalistic definitions. We look at what really makes a difference in terms of realising human rights in practice. Can human rights really be constructed in ways that challenge and overturn established social structures? Can rights be claimed in such a way that they can really protect us as human beings against the ‘creative destruction’ of global capitalism, state repression, the subjugation of women, and hatred and violence against minorities of all kinds – sexual, ethnic, religious?

This course covers the following disciplines: sociology, politics, anthropology, law, geography, english, literature, cultural studies, criminology

Modules & structure

The MA in Human Rights, Culture and Social Justice is taught in the Department of Sociology, where there are a number of people who are working on areas broadly related to human rights as well as directly on how human rights are constructed and claimed. 

In the first part of the course you will take the core module ‘Constructing Human Rights’ in which you will be introduced to debates over the possibilities of human rights, different ways of conceiving culture and the role that is played by a diverse range of organisations involved in challenging injustices connected to globalisation. You will also consider practical attempts to realise human rights.

You will take two short, skills-oriented modules 'Researching Human Rights' and 'Organising Human Rights' in which you will be introduced to methods and skills that will be of direct practical use in working for NGOs (eg evaluating user engagement, team-building and decision-making through role play, tracing the media impact of a campaign). 

In the second term, you will choose among a number of options. You can choose to take 'Practicing Human Rights' and make use of some of the skills you have learned in a placement. Students who choose this option find and negotiate a placement in an organisation or a grassroots campaign whose work can be related to human rights and attend a series of workshops that allow them to reflect on the practical work, on their professional skills and on the broader significance of their observations.

While the core modules of the programme are taught by lecturers in Sociology, you may choose your option modules from those that are run here or in other departments, including Politics, Media and Communications, and Anthropology. 

Finally you will write a dissertation based on research you will carry out, possibly related to the NGO or network you have worked in, and making use of a range of concepts and methods taught in the Department. You will be supervised by someone with expertise and interest in the topic you are studying and the methodologies and methods you plan to use. 

Core modules

Option modules

You will choose option modules worth 60 credits in SociologyMedia and Communications, the Centre for Cultural StudiesEnglish and Comparative LiteratureAnthropologyPoliticsMusic and Educational Studies.


Assessment consists of coursework, extended essays, reports, presentations, practice based projects or essays/logs, group projects, reflective essays, and seen and unseen written examinations.

Skills & careers

As issues of globalisation and justice are frequently in the media, and government policy in the UK, US, and elsewhere in Europe is now supposed to be guided by considerations of humanitarianism and human rights, there is a need for graduates with knowledge of human rights. 

There are openings for careers in organisations including charities, humanitarian and human rights NGOs and even multi-national corporations, many of which are now concerned with their image in terms of human rights. 

Find out more about employability at Goldsmiths.

Visit the Human Rights, Culture & Social Justice - MA page on the Goldsmiths, University of London website for more details!





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