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Human Rights MA

Mode Duration Start date
Full time 1 year
  • September 2015
Part time 2 years
  • September 2015

Choose Kingston's Human Rights MA

This human rights course takes a broad conception of human rights as its basis - what HG Wells once said was the belief that everyone is entitled to the "nourishment... care and attention needed to realise [their] full possibilities of physical and mental health from birth to death".

It looks at how far human rights are enshrined in definitions of citizenship and to what extent they form the basis of national and international law. In addition, it explores the extent to which human rights are enshrined in and supported by a deeper politics and culture, by institutions, structures, movements and values.

If you would like to develop a career as a practitioner or researcher in the field of human rights and are interested in the connections between theory and practice, this course is ideal.

What will you study?

The scope of this course is extensive and challenging. It deals with political developments in the UK, in Europe and internationally. You will look at nation-states, international and transnational organisations, but also at campaigning movements and pressure groups, recognising how much the development and securing of human rights owe to them.

This will involve both the study of the current international situation and of relations between states and non-state actors where conflicts have resulted in considerable violations of human rights.

You will also look at the challenges and demands that have resulted from the continual and growing movements of people, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants fleeing conflicts and seeking better lives. This course is underpinned by a grounding in case law in human rights.


Essays, reports, project work, presentations and dissertation.

Course structure

Please note that this is an indicative list of modules and is not intended as a definitive list.

Core modules

  • The Masters programme culminates in the dissertation, an extended project that allows the student to engage in independent research, applying and developing the content of the taught modules to a topic of their choice.

    The dissertation is prepared for in Semester 2, and is then fully engaged in what is effectively a third semester.

    The student’s dissertation research is supported by supervision, with the primary emphasis on independent study.

  • This module is one of two core modules for students on the MA Human Rights, and can be taken as an option by some students in related fields who are interested in learning about the human rights architecture, its actors and their activism. It is aimed at clarifying central themes in the history and evolution of human rights, and looks also at the institutions and mechanisms operating at the international and regional levels to protect, promote and defend human rights. Through case studies, students will learn about the roles, functions and activities of key human rights actors and institutions at the international, regional and domestic levels. The module will include a critical evaluation of the challenges facing human rights actors and institutions in defending, protecting and promoting human rights and end with a critical consideration of the interplay between human rights actors, institutions and activism.

  • This module is one of two core modules for the students on the MA Human Rights, and can be taken as an option by some students in related fields who are interested in learning about practical strategies for campaigning for human rights. The main premise of this module is to critically assess the possibility of achieving human rights in various different contexts. Students will explore what is meant by human rights and the protection of human rights. They will consider, in detail, the scope and content of a number of core rights. Through case studies illustrating various campaign methods and strategies, students will gain practical knowledge of how to design and deliver campaigns that have impact. They will simulate practitioners in the field and gain relevant expertise in campaign design. This module blends contemporary debates and contested issues with practical strategies of how to achieve the protection of human rights.

  • Students have the opportunity in this module to gain valuable placement experience in human rights or political communication organisations which use these, and reflect critically on this.


Optional modules

  • This module covers two aspects key to understanding and managing conflict within international relations.  First, it looks at theoretical and analytical approaches to conflict.  Drawing on insights from a range of social science disciplines – including history, psychology, anthropology, sociology, politics and international relations – this module critically examines the range of theories that have been put forward to explain how conflict arises and how it escalates.  It also explores the way in which identity (such as religion and ethnicity), structural inequality, frustration and aggression can all play a part in creating the conditions for confrontation and conflict.  Second, the module explores the wide range of ways in which international conflict can be managed and resolved and how a sustainable peace can be built in post-conflict situations. The module therefore explores topics such as

    • The role of international law and international organisations in the management of conflict;
    • The prevention and containment of conflict;
    • Humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping;
    • Mediation and negotiation;
    • The role of NGOs and aid organisations in conflict; and
    reconciliation and reconstruction.

  • This module approaches questions of security and conflict in the contemporary world by providing opportunities for their in-depth analysis in two contrasting ways: first, by focussing on a range of contemporary issues and dynamics raised by recent conflicts and security questions, each of them discussed with the help of a range of contrasting examples. Then, the second part of the module will provide an opportunity to explore two cases of conflicts and/or security crises, the study of which will allow in-depth discussion several of the issues explored in the first part of the module together.

    Both parts of the module provide opportunities to use and challenge various theoretical and conceptual approaches of conflict and security issues at an advanced level. The range of issues analysed and studied in the first half of the module, as well as the choice of case studies selected each year for the second half, will evolve through time, but both will offer rich and contrasting grounds for an in-depth practical and critical understanding of contemporary security and conflict situations and management.

    So for instance, issues, themes and dynamics explored and analysed in the first half will include: New forms of conflict in the post-Cold War period; Ethnicity and national citizenship in contemporary conflicts; Terrorism, insurgency and political violence; Issues of gender in conflict; Sovereignty, the Nation-State and international intervention; New forms of international conflict management,  etc… Then, in the second half of the module, examples of case studies which will be developed may include: Recent conflicts in West Africa; Conflicts in Bosnia; the Northern Ireland conflict; etc. In analysing each of these conflicts, several of the issues and themes developed in the first part will be highlighted and explored within the case study itself – for instance the West African conflicts case study will provide ample opportunities to revisit and discuss issues such as ‘New forms of conflicts in the post-war period’; ‘Refugees, mass migration and citizenship’, ‘Ethnicity and national citizenship in contemporary conflicts’. Students select two case studies in the second part of the module.

  • This module will enable students to acquire a thorough understanding of the multifaceted character of politics by outlining key orthodox and critical paradigms in political theory as well as examining different normative frameworks within an evolving global politics. It combines the examination of theories and ideologies concerning the state with a historical and issue-based exploration of the interplay between different political actors including states, intergovernmental organisations, multinational corporations, NGOs and the civil society in the context of normative frameworks for global governance.

  • This module is a core module for students pursuing the MA in International Politics and Economics and the MSc Political Economy, Macro-economics and Finance. The module is a recommended option for the MA in International Relations and an elective for other masters courses.

    Globalisation has made the study of the global political economy and its challenges a vital area of research and debate. This module equips students to join in the renaissance of political-economic thought on the international plane. It concentrates on the themes of capitalism, imperialism and the state.

    The module outlines the nature of International Political Economy (IPE) as a distinctive field of study. Students encounter a range of approaches to studying broad theoretical and policy issues including the role of the state in society, labour and the labour process, the role of finance in the international system, the nature and origins of profit, inequality, theories of imperialism, capitalist crises, and economic growth and development.

    The module develops from classical approaches and debates to more contemporary perspectives on studying the global political economy. Students will carry out a case study on such topics as: the impact of foreign investment or the policies of the International Monetary Fund on an underdeveloped country or region; the political economy aspects of a particular financial crisis; the political economy of a nation’s economic development from an internal and global perspective. 

  • The module examines nationalism as one of the fundamental principles that shape the contemporary world.  The module is built on the premise that nationalism is a product of modernity, that is, nationalism is conditioned by as well as conditions the modern world.  The module explores the importance of nationalism in modern politics by placing it in a wider context of the rise of modernity.  Modernity is characterised by a variety of features: particular organisation of economy, production and work; a particular system of order and governance; a particular emphasis on the importance of culture; a particular set of norms; a particular psychological state.  These are at the same time the dimensions of politics in the modern world.  By examining the relationship between nationalism and these dimensions of modernity, the module provides a firm theoretical grounding for investigation of politics and conflicts in today’s world. The module also encourages students to investigate a case of nationalism of their choice in order to apply their theoretical knowledge.  The module has two major parts.  In the first part theoretical issues related to the modernity of nationalism will be rigorously examined.  In the second part, the module looks at a variety of case studies as presented by the students. 

  • This module is a core requirement for students taking an MSc in Political Communication, Advocacy and Campaigning or International Political Communication, Advocacy and Campaigning. It may also be of interest to other students on postgraduate degrees in politics, international relations, human rights, conflict and media who are looking for an option that explores the dynamic relationship between media, public opinion and public policy. In teaching block one, students examine different ways of making sense of the relationship between the state, the public and the media; different approaches to struggles over policy; and different ways to assess what influence media and policymakers have on each other. In the second teaching block, students explore struggles over how politics and policies are communicated. Here they are offered two choices from a portmanteau of mini-specialisms divided into: [1] traditional forms of political communication where choices may include political marketing and election campaigns; advocacy and lobbying; political journalism and crisis communication [2] resistance or "bottom up" forms where choices may include: image events, the body and resistance; activist campaigns and social media; protest politics and mainstream media (Note: The particular choices on offer may vary from year to year as we keep the module up to date with current events and new research).

  • This module introduces students to the study of terrorism and political violence, and engages with the primary debates in the field. The first half of the module addresses definitional, epistemological and methodological issues raised by the study of political violence. The module will also outline the history of modern political violence and the evolution of the way it has been defined and studied. In this context, the module will explore the nature and evolution of various forms of contemporary political violence, including: wars; ‘new wars’; insurgency and counterinsurgency; irregular warfare; guerrilla warfare; state and non-state terrorism; and counter-terrorism. Throughout, focus will be given to a range of mainstream and critical approaches to the field, ensuring that students become aware of the rich variety of perspectives which can be adopted in relation to the subject. In the second half of the module, time will be given to examining a range of human rights issues and debates which arise in relation to political violence and terrorism.

  • This module is a core module for the MSc International Relations.  It can be taken as an option module by students studying in related masters fields.

    How do we understand the contemporary international system?  The module: 1) explains and critiques a number of the leading theories that have been put forward to explain how the international system operates; and 2) applies those theories to a series of case studies. This combination facilitates the exploration of international relations through the practical application of theoretical standpoints.

    In the first part of the module we explore the key ideas and philosophies underpinning the study of international relations (IR), including:

    -          traditional realist theories of interstate relations and great power politics;

    -          Marxist inspired theories of structural inequalities;

    -          contemporary pluralist theories focusing on the interaction of state and non-state actors.

    In the second part we apply the theories explore in Part 1 to a series of student led international relations case studies of major international issues, both historically and contemporary. The cases will be chosen by the students with guidance from the module leader.

    As a bridge between Part 1 and Part 2 the students will explore a case study provided by the module leader to give the students a framework for what is expected in the student led case studies.

  • This one semester module is an elective primarily offered to students taking an MA in Media & Communication or an MA in Film but it is also relevant to those taking postgraduate degrees in politics, political communication, human rights and conflict. It deals with some of the most hotly debated issues in different societies about how to balance core freedoms (expression, press and protest) with the state protecting what and who may be potentially harmed by certain forms of expression through censorship.  Even then these remain open debates as new forms of subversion and resistance emerge with new technologies or through the use of the body to express protest. The module explores these at two levels. The first outlines different approaches to and principles governing censorship depending on whether expression is through images; words, ideas and beliefs; information; and action. These are then explored in more depth in sessions that draw on staff specialisms here, for instance, in film, news, information-privacy, protest movements, etc.

  • This module is designed to introduce the major theoretical and analytical approaches, which attempt to explain and examine the media and communication industries and their effect on society, culture and politics. In doing so, it explores the historical trajectory of media studies.

    The module starts with a critical and reflective engagement with key concepts and issues that have been used in these different approaches to understand the effects of media and communication, such as the masses, the public sphere or ideology. This is followed by an examination of more recent debates in the field, which have focused on the transformation of media and communication technologies, such as digitization and convergence of different media platforms, as well as the changing social and political context (i.e. globalization, relative decline of the nation-states and their control over media systems).

    The more recent debates in the field have also prompted a change in media studies. The result has been an increasingly interdisciplinary field of research about the role of media and communication today. A main objective of this module is to assess the content of that “change” and, through this, to reflect critically upon the emerging discussions and debates in media studies that respond to this change.

    Contemporary case studies from everyday media will provide you with the opportunity to debate and assess the usability of these concepts.

  • This module is designed to investigate the ways in which criminal justice policy is created and communicated. This is a practice based module which will examine the evidence, mechanisms, influences and communication techniques that shape policy priorities and bring about change. The module will focus on understanding the socio-political environment in which criminal justice policy is proposed, implemented and communicated to different audiences. Students will examine the way change is considered and debated by stakeholders in the political sphere and within the criminal justice system. We will observe how evidence and argument is used to influence policymakers and consider how policy proposals are communicated through different media.  In the course of the module students will scrutinise policy makers and advocates of change in order to develop their own skills for influencing criminal justice policy. 


  • Globalization has been one of the most popular buzzwords of our times, attempting to explain why and how the contemporary world seems to be changing at such speed and how we, as individuals are caught in this whirlwind of change. Media and cinema, more than any other industries, have been seen as inherent and constitutive parts of globalization, both contributing to and shaped by different processes of globalization. Taught jointly by staff from postgraduate programs of media and communication and film, this module explores the debates around media and cinema’s inherent and constitutive roles in globalization. It particularly attempts to examine the political, social, cultural and moral issues that arise around the global circulation of media and film texts, images and formats.

  • This module will be examining some deeply troubling events in recent history and politics and the various ethical, legal and political responses that they have generated. It has been argued that the Holocaust was a critical turning point, a catastrophe which required a fundamental ethical, legal and political rethinking of how the rights of human beings could be protected when states in the modern world engage in the systematic attempt to murder large numbers of people, including many of their own citizens. The module begins with reflections on the Nazi attempt to eliminate a whole group of people (the Jews) and to murder and enslave millions of others. It then considers a range of responses, including the Nuremberg trials, the Genocide Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It examines a number of cases of genocide and crimes against humanity that have nevertheless occurred subsequently. It evaluates the repeated failure for decades to halt or prevent these crimes and then considers the rethinking caused by the genocides in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the setting up of ad hoc tribunals and an International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators and provide justice to victims. It concludes with reflections on how much progress has been made in protecting citizens in a world of sovereign nation states and what forms of justice can work after such crimes have been committed. These are highly contested questions and the module is designed to encourage the critical analysis and evaluation of a wide range of arguments that have been put forward from a variety of perspectives.


You will have the opportunity to study a foreign language, free of charge, during your time at the University as part of the Kingston Language Scheme. Options currently include: Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

For further information

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Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2361
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