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Book description

This pioneering volume explores the long-neglected history of social rights, from the Middle Ages to the present. It debunks the myth that social rights are 'second-generation rights' – rights that appeared after World War II as additions to a rights corpus stretching back to the Enlightenment. Not only do social rights stretch back that far; they arguably pre-date the Enlightenment. In tracing their long history across various global contexts, this volume reveals how debates over social rights have often turned on deeper struggles over social obligation – over determining who owes what to whom, morally and legally. In the modern period, these struggles have been intertwined with questions of freedom, democracy, equality and dignity. Many factors have shaped the history of social rights, from class, gender and race to religion, empire and capitalism. With incomparable chronological depth, geographical breadth and conceptual nuance, Social Rights and the Politics of Obligation in History sets an agenda for future histories of human rights.


'This collection expands our view of rights, bringing together differing opinions among its authors, looking back in time, and bridging the false dichotomy between social and political/civic rights. These valuable essays combine attention to historical detail with a keen sense of the intellectual and political stakes in debates over rights.'

Frederick Cooper - New York University

'Jensen and Walton provide a rich and eye-opening edited volume showcasing the latest historical research on social rights. The volume advances the research agenda and busts prominent myths in the field, demonstrating that social rights did not arrive as part of three sequential generation of rights, that human rights were not born in the 1970s, and that the origins of social rights predate socialism. The introduction by the editors and the bracing conclusion by Phillip Alston belong on all human rights syllabi.'

Kathryn Sikkink - Harvard University

'Economic and social rights history was never dull, but in both sharpening and lengthening that history, Stephen Jensen and Charles Walton have produced a book that is vital reading for human rights scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers. I have not seen a better treatment of what the shortcut thinking of 'generations' of rights - first as civil and political, second as economic, social and cultural, and third as collective, solidarity, and environmental rights - misses.'

Katharine G. Young - Boston College Law School

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