Rights, Development and Critical Modernity

Development and Change (2015), 46(4), 777-802.

26 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2015

See all articles by Malcolm Langford

Malcolm Langford

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law

Date Written: August 17, 2015


The march of rights into international development offers, on the face of it, a more progressive and transformational paradigm. Contemporary rights expressions are more expansive and diverse than their nineteenth-century fore-bears. Inevitably though, rights-based approaches have been criticized, with claims that rights have contributed to a minimization and individualization of distributive justice and participatory democracy or even been appropriated for profoundly anti-transformational ends. This article argues that the critics need to be taken seriously, but that their complaints suffer from many of the familiar problems with critical theory and post-developmentalism. Instead, it is posited that the frame of critical modernity allows scholars and practitioners to better understand, chart and constructively critique the uptake of rights in development. This reflexive standpoint also allows one to focus on those dimensions of rights approaches that remain under-developed but carry the greatest potential, namely notions of citizenship, agency and accountability.

Suggested Citation

Langford, Malcolm, Rights, Development and Critical Modernity (August 17, 2015). Development and Change (2015), 46(4), 777-802., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2645663

Malcolm Langford (Contact Author)

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law ( email )

P.O. Box 6706 St. Olavs plass
N-0130 Oslo

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