Perspectives on the ‘User’: Unpacking a Concept for Human Rights Research

Human Rights & International Legal Discourse 8(2), 2014, Forthcoming

Centre Perelman - Working Paper No. 2013/5

21 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2014 Last revised: 16 Feb 2015

See all articles by Moritz Baumgärtel

Moritz Baumgärtel

Utrecht University - Faculty of Law; Utrecht University - University College Roosevelt

Date Written: October 15, 2013

Abstract

Adopting a ‘user perspective’ might open promising new avenues to human rights research, especially in a context of global legal pluralism that is characterized by a multiplicity of actors. This article evaluates the conceptual value of the approach by confronting it with three forceful objections to the notions of human rights ‘users’ and ‘usage’ as they emerge from the social sciences, in particular from sociology. These include the ‘Arendtian’ argument concerning the problem of the ‘right to have rights’, the challenge of ontological structuralism, and suspicion about the purchase of a rational choice approach to ‘usage’. While debates on these arguments divide social scientists, they nonetheless provide significant insights into the limitations of agentic approaches to human rights. The theoretical analysis offered in this article leads to the conclusion that robust and constructive ‘user perspective’ research must pay close attention to the properties and behavioural processes of its ‘users’ as well as to the specific constraints that they face in exercising their agency. At the same time, certain conceptual and methodological tools can be transferred from social science literature precisely to tackle these issues. Future research adopting a user perspective cannot but take an interdisciplinary angle which positions any user both in a legal and in a social context.

Keywords: human rights, user perspective, right to have rights, structuralism, rational choice theory

Suggested Citation

Baumgärtel, Moritz, Perspectives on the ‘User’: Unpacking a Concept for Human Rights Research (October 15, 2013). Human Rights & International Legal Discourse 8(2), 2014, Forthcoming, Centre Perelman - Working Paper No. 2013/5, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2377657

Moritz Baumgärtel (Contact Author)

Utrecht University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Janskerkhof 3
Utrecht, 3512 BK
Netherlands

Utrecht University - University College Roosevelt ( email )

Lange Noordstraat 1
Middelburg, 4331CB
Netherlands

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