Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-qcsxw Total loading time: 0.362 Render date: 2022-08-12T12:06:05.789Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

5 - The local relevance of human rights: a methodological approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2011

Koen De Feyter
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
Stephan Parmentier
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Christiane Timmerman
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
George Ulrich
Riga Graduate School of Law
Get access


[H]uman rights is concerned with valuing each of us for what we are, and what we are is not just an autonomous, organic entity separate from everything around us but rather a self that is located – located in a family, a community, a nation, an ethnic group – and it is precisely through our circle of various belongings that we can flourish as persons, lead successful lives as human beings, and fulfil the promise of human rights.


The universality of human rights has been a matter of analysis and debate since these rights were recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When addressing the relationship between human rights and local contexts, these debates have largely focused on the dilemma of universality versus cultural relativism. While human rights scholars and activists have actively engaged in promoting a greater understanding of the universal value of the principles of human rights, less attention has been paid to, on the one hand, examining how these rights become relevant to the most excluded individuals and communities and, on the other, assessing local participation in human rights development and elaboration. These largely neglected issues, however, have begun to be addressed and further explored by intellectuals from other disciplines, such as anthropology, whose contribution is central to ‘localising human rights’, a framework that seeks to enhance the protection of individuals and communities from the negative effects of global socio-economic trends.

The objective of this chapter is to outline a methodology for case study research projects designed to examine the localisation of human rights; that is, for research that looks at the use and relevance of human rights for changing realities of extreme poverty, social exclusion or marginalisation. More specifically, this chapter will offer an introduction on how the use of human rights by local communities can be researched. It will suggest methodological guidelines for examining experiences in which actors invoke human rights at the local level, as well as for recording and analysing the knowledge they acquire and the lessons they learn from those experiences.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


ALBOAN and Institute of Human Rights Pedro Arrupe (IHRPA)
ALBOAN and Institute of Human Rights Pedro Arrupe (IHRPA)
Amnesty International and the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic DevelopmentInvestigating Women's Rights Violations in Armed ConflictsQuebecAmnesty International Publications and Rights & Democracy 2001Google Scholar
Callamard, A.A Methodology for Gender-Sensitive ResearchVanier, Ont.Amnesty International 1999Google Scholar
Cavanaugh, J.???The Case for Subsidiarity: Bias Away from the Global Toward the Local???Cavanaugh, J.Alternatives to Economic Globalisation: A Better World is PossibleSan FranciscoBarrett-Koehler Publishers 2002Google Scholar
Center for Victims of
Cohen, D.De La Vega, R.Watson, G.Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Action and Reflection GuideBloomfield, CTKumarian Press 2001Google Scholar
Conti, J.O'Neil, M.‘Studying Power: Qualitative Methods and the Global Elite’ 2007 7 Qualitative Research63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Feyter, K.???Localising Human Rights???Benedek, W.De Feyter, K.Marrella, F.Economic Globalisation and Human RightsCambridgeCambridge University Press 2007Google Scholar
Dooley, L.‘Case Study Research and Theory Building’ 2002 4 Advances in Developing Human Resources335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Filmer-Wilson, E. 2005
Francke, M.Morgan, M.La sistematización: Apuesta por la generación de conocimientos a partir de las experiencias de promociónLimaEscuela para el Desarrollo 1995Google Scholar
Gargarella, R.Domingo, P.Roux, T.Courts and Social Transformation in New Democracies: An Institutional Voice for the Poor?AldershotAshgate Publishing 2006Google Scholar
Gearty, C.Can Human Rights Survive?CambridgeCambridge University Press 2006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hines, C.‘Time to Replace Globalisation with Localisation’ 2003 Global Environmental Politics 3 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights & Democracy)Human Right Impact Assessment for Foreign Investment ProjectsMontrealRights & Democracy 2007 www-dd.rd.caGoogle Scholar
Kapur, A.Duvvury, N.A Rights-based Approach to Realizing the Economic and Social Rights of Poor and Marginalized WomenWashington, DCInternational Center for Research on Women 2006 www.icrw.orgGoogle Scholar
Lingard, L.Schryer, C.Spafford, M.Campbell, S.‘Negotiating the Politics of Identity in an Interdisciplinary Research Team’ 2007 7 Qualitative Research501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McClymont, M.Golub, S.Many Roads to JusticeNew YorkFord Foundation 2000Google Scholar
Martinic, S. 1998
Massey, C.Alpass, F.Flett, R.Lewis, K.Morris, S.Sligo, F.‘Crossing Fields: The Case of a Multidisciplinary Research Team’ 2006 6 Qualitative Research131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Merry, S. EngleHuman Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local JusticeChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press 2006Google Scholar
Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, NORADHandbook in Human Rights Assessment, State Obligations and EmpowermentNorwayNORAD 2001 www.norad.noGoogle Scholar
Nyamu-Musembi, C.Cornwall, A.What Is the Rights-based Approach all About? Perspectives from International Development AgenciesBrightonInstitute for Development Studies 2004 Scholar
Piron, L.‘Rights-based Approaches and Bilateral Aid Agencies: More than a Metaphor?’ 2004 36 Institute for Development Studies Bulletin1Google Scholar
Saith, R.Social Exclusion: The Concept and Application to Developing CountriesUniversity of Oxford, Queen Elizabeth House 2001 Scholar
SDC 2004
Tellis, W.‘Introduction to Case Study’ 1997 Qualitative Report 2 Scholar
Yin, R.The Case Study AnthologyThousand Oaks, CASAGE Publications 2004
ALBOAN database on systematisation (English and Spanish)
Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC)
Human Rights Impact Resource Center (HRIRC)
United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, INSTRAW, Gender Research Guide

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats