Human Rights Research Methods in Social Science
September 11,2014   By:CSHRS

Fan Jizeng

Introduction and Motivation

Legal science and philosophy are two of the most important disciplines in the field of human rights research, both of them assuming different roles and functions in human rights analysis. Scholars can discuss or debate from a philosophical perspective such as where the ideology of human rights comes from,what the ontology of human rights is and whether people could legitimate human rights claimson the basis of natural morality. However, the fact is that the absence of a consensusphilosophical foundation for the justificationof human rights depresses these human rights philosophers a lot.From a historical view, human rights thought evolved from the Stoics’ “rights derive from natural justice”1 to “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” stated in the preamble of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also the natural justice theory, God’s will theory, social contract theory and natural rights theory or human dignity theory, interest theory, and universal ethics theory can be seen as the formal source of metaphysical human rights. On the other hand, originally cultural differencespervasively broughtin a plurality of social consciousness and identities to different communities where these features were strongly molded by the local culture and hardly totally dissolved by any imposed external forces, including the colonial way.2 Modern Western stateswere pervasively founded on the ideology of liberalism by which their citizens could legally change theirreligious beliefs due to freedom of religion.In contrast, Arabs cannot do the same as their Western counterpartssince Muslim rules in theKoran, the primary legal authority in the Muslim world, have stated firmly that men and women have the obligation eternally to believe in their God.3 Even among Western countries that share a similar social and politicalculture, human rights scholars have not been able to reach total agreement on human rights philosophical theory either.We have also seen in recent years a similar scene among Chinese scholars as among Western legal philosophy scholars who have been heatedly debating for a long time which characteristic of human rights (liberty or equality) should betaken as the priority for national states, but they have hardly come to any widely accepted conclusions. Therefore, scholars have found it impossible to reach a common stand in their metaphysical ideas due to their culture-based and political-based differences; even some scholars claim that it is no more than a time-wasting activity to explore human rightslegitimacy from a philosophical (metaphysical) standpoint because these debates would not help us converge compatibly and but would prompt us to gradually diverge into a meaningless ideology war. Canadian sociologist Alasdair McIntyre was onewho argued that it is a superstition to trust the existence of human rights,since it is the same as trusting the existence of a unicorn.4Obviously, he proposed that any presupposed metaphysical foundation for human rights cannot be treated as a self-evident rule, so there is no way that we can justify human rights (or “rights”) in a liberal ideology unless dating ourselves back to history. In fact, I rather disagree with the strong culture-bound theory that totally ignoresconvergence more or less happening in the cultural field in the globalization process. Women’s rights reform in Turkey is a good example where rural women were widely in favor of a new property law in contrast with a long tradition that has entitled them to more independent procedural rights in divorce cases.5In contrast, I hold a weak culture-bound perspective that defines culture to some extent or in some fields as a dynamic convergence or divergence with states in cross-national communications.

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