Human Rights As a Social Institution

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: Booth 46
Oral Presentation
Gert VERSCHRAEGEN , Sociology, University of Antwerp, Antwerpen, Belgium

Human rights as a social institution

Contrary to legal-positivistic approaches to human rights, sociologists often argue that human rights need not be restricted to legal norms. Rights have to be seen as more than legal norms discerned by judges trained in legal reasoning. For human rights to have social meaning, they must become institutionalised socially and become embedded in people’s mindsets as well as in the day-to-day workings of societal institutions such as the judiciary, the schooling system, healthcare and the family. The aim of this paper is to develop such a sociological-institutional approach to human rights, which provides an important contrast to standard legal-positivistic approach of human rights. Based on the work of a.o. Meyer and Luhmann I will argue that fundamental rights can be seen as a social institution playing a crucial role in the protection of individual agency in a modern, horizontal and heterogeneous society.