Vertical and Horizontal Perspectives on Rights Consciousness

34 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2013

Date Written: 2012


It has become commonplace to assert that rights consciousness is expanding globally and that individuals worldwide demonstrate an increasing awareness of and insistence upon their legal entitlements. To marshal empirical support for such claims is, however, exceedingly complex. One important line of socio-legal research on rights consciousness adopts what might be called a “vertical” perspective, tracing the flow of legal norms and practices from prestigious international organizations and world centers of cultural production to local settings, where they may be adopted, resisted, or transformed. Vertical perspectives on rights consciousness have contributed new understandings of law in contemporary societies around the world, but alone they cannot determine whether rights consciousness has expanded or contracted in relation to other systems of norm enforcement and dispute resolution. To answer this question, vertical perspectives must be combined with horizontal perspectives to ascertain what norms, practices, and beliefs prevail within various social fields where ordinary people engage in everyday interactions. A combination of vertical and horizontal perspectives is illustrated by research on rights consciousness in northern Thailand, which suggests the counterintuitive conclusion that rights consciousness may have diminished and that ordinary people rely instead on new forms of religiosity to justify inaction even in the face of serious legal harms.

Keywords: Asian Law, Comparative Law, Rights Consciousness, Thailand

Suggested Citation

Engel, David M., Vertical and Horizontal Perspectives on Rights Consciousness (2012). Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 19, 2012, SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-028, Available at SSRN:

David M. Engel (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

415 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States

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