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Vulnerability and Human Rights

Bryan S. Turner

Publication Year: 2006

The mass violence of the twentieth century’s two world wars—followed more recently by decentralized and privatized warfare, manifested in terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and other localized forms of killing—has led to a heightened awareness of human beings’ vulnerability and the precarious nature of the institutions they create to protect themselves from violence and exploitation. This vulnerability, something humans share amid the diversity of cultural beliefs and values that mark their differences, provides solid ground on which to construct a framework of human rights. Bryan Turner undertakes this task here, developing a sociology of rights from a sociology of the human body. His blending of empirical research with normative analysis constitutes an important step forward for the discipline of sociology. Like anthropology, sociology has traditionally eschewed the study of justice as beyond the limits of a discipline that pays homage to cultural relativism and the “value neutrality” of positivistic science. Turner’s expanded approach accordingly involves a truly interdisciplinary dialogue with the literature of economics, law, medicine, philosophy, political science, and religion.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: Essays on Human Rights


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This extended essay is based upon a series of lectures I gave at the University of Cambridge in the undergraduate program on citizenship and human rights. I am grateful to the students who took the Part 11B paper ‘‘Soc 6’’ and who, through their supervision papers, helped me formulate this thesis more clearly. My special thanks go to Darin Weinberg, ...

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1. Crimes Against Humanity

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pp. 1-24

In this study of rights, the concepts of human vulnerability and institutional precariousness are employed both to grasp the importance of human rights and to defend their universalism. Vulnerability defines our humanity and is presented here as the common basis of human rights. The idea of our vulnerable human nature is closely associated with certain fundamental rights, such as the right to life. Indeed, the rights that support life, ...

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2. Vulnerability and Suffering

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pp. 25-44

This study of human rights places the human body at the center of social and political theory, and it employs the notion of embodiment as a foundation for defending universal human rights. My argument is based on four fundamental philosophical assumptions: the vulnerability of human ...

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3. Cultural Rights and Critical Recognition Theory

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pp. 45-68

Cultural rights have become a crucial issue in contemporary politics. In an increasingly hybrid and multicultural global context, cultural identities are politically contested—and hence securing cultural rights is an important precondition for the enjoyment of other human rights. These cultural rights, however ...

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4. Reproductive and Sexual Rights

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pp. 69-88

We might reasonably argue that human beings are vulnerable precisely because they are sexual beings—that is, social beings whose sexual satisfaction and reproduction requires intimate reciprocity, typically with a limited number of partners over a considerable length of time. Humans cannot reproduce by cellular division, and they must seek out appropriate mates. ...

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5. Rights of Impairment and Disability

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pp. 89-110

Citizenship and social rights have passed through several stages in modern social and political thought—from the idealism of the philosopher T. H. Green before the First World War to the development of European welfare policies after the Second World War, policies that were associated with social Keynesianism and specifically with T. H. Marshall ...

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6. Rights of the Body

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pp. 111-128

A minimum level of good health is a material precondition for the enjoyment of human rights. We might interpret this commonsense observation through the political economy of Karl Marx against the claims of liberalism and its assumptions about individual rights. Marx believed that democratic institutions in capitalism had failed because the social dominance ...

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7. Old and New Xenophobia

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pp. 129-142

In Of Hospitality (2000), Jacques Derrida has written eloquently and convincingly about the rights of the stranger, arguing that ethics is in fact hospitality. His account of hospitality follows E


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pp. 143-150


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pp. 151-156

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053011
E-ISBN-10: 0271053011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271029238
Print-ISBN-10: 0271029234

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Essays on Human Rights