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The Human Rights Paradox
Universality and Its Discontents
Edited by Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

“A deeply penetrating critique of dominant trends in the human rights literature. This volume poses a persuasive challenge to those scholars who overlook the uneven and nonlinear development of human rights.”
—Victor Peskin, author of International Justice in Rwanda and the Balkans

Human rights are paradoxical. Advocates across the world invoke the idea that such rights belong to all people, no matter who or where they are. But since humans can only realize their rights in particular places, human rights are both always and never universal.

The Human Rights Paradox is the first book to fully embrace this contradiction and reframe human rights as history, contemporary social advocacy, and future prospect. In case studies that span Africa, Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and the United States, contributors carefully illuminate how social actors create the imperative of human rights through relationships whose entanglements of the global and the local are so profound that one cannot exist apart from the other. These chapters provocatively analyze emerging twenty-first-century horizons of human rights—on one hand, the simultaneous promise and peril of global rights activism through social media, and on the other, the force of intergenerational rights linked to environmental concerns that are both local and global. Taken together, they demonstrate how local struggles and realities transform classic human rights concepts, including “victim,” “truth,” and “justice.”

Edited by Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, The Human Rights Paradox enables us to consider the consequences—for history, social analysis, politics, and advocacy—of understanding that human rights belong both to “humanity” as abstraction as well as to specific people rooted in particular locales.

Steve J. SternScott Straus





“Refreshingly, the editors do not pretend to rewrite the field. As Stern and Straus explain in the introduction, the purpose is to open the door to more fruitful scholarship and innovative thinking about human rights. In this, the book succeeds overwhelmingly.”

“The contributors illustrate well the complexity of analyzing specific situations and defining strategies for action, as well as the relevance of context, history, and politics.”
—Susana Kaiser, University of San Francisco


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The Human Rights Paradox

April 2014
LC: 2013027992 JC
274 pp.   6 x 9

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Paper $21.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-29974-3
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