Rights in Context: Law and Justice in Late Modern Society

November 3, 2011

Editor: Reza Banakar

Edition: First

Publisher: Ashgate

Pages: 368

Price: £85.00 and £35.00

ISBN 9781409407393 and 07409

Law tends to be a discipline wedded to the "set text". The topic of rights, however, permits teachers to be more creative when drawing up reading lists. If, like me, you prefer to teach human rights in more critical and less idolatrous tones, Reza Banakar's edited volume, Rights in Context, is a useful addition to your course. It provides an excellent interdisciplinary and philosophical enquiry into human rights in social context - the sort of text that is often, without warrant, considered peripheral reading for human rights students. It offers a much-needed alternative to doctrinal, uncritical approaches to the study of human rights.

Its contributors, for the most part, cover cutting-edge human rights issues, such as the rights of Muslims in Islamophobic societies, the impact of the "War on Terror" on the rights of individuals, investors' rights and the economic crisis, to name a few. The book employs a combination of theoretical and empirical approaches to the study of rights, which attests to Banakar and his contributors' commitment to provide an account of rights in discourse as well as "in action". Rights are examined as tools used by groups desiring radical change and empowerment, as well as in their exploitation by powerful elites seeking to exclude and oppress. In its presentation, there is nothing one would not expect from an edited volume. By way of improvement, the text would benefit from a complete bibliography.

Rights in Context is by no means an introductory text on human rights. The complexity and specificity of some of the chapters make the book more suited to postgraduate courses. Even here, there are some anomalies, such as a chapter (on the direct effect of European Union directives) that adopts an overly formal and technical jurisprudential approach, making use of intricate formulaic representations, which seem unnecessarily abstract and abstruse in a text that is marketed to students. While not appropriate as a core text on a general human rights law course, Banakar's volume offers an insightful critical perspective on rights discourse, one that is often lacking in the mainstream literature and almost always lacking in texts designed for human rights students. In view of this, considering the dearth of critical perspectives on rights in traditional law textbooks, a chapter or two on an undergraduate human rights reading list would not go amiss. It is high time that critical accounts of the law ceased to be relegated to the status of fringe literature - sometimes optional, but rarely required, reading for students.

Who is it for? Human rights postgraduates and final-year undergraduates.

Presentation: Generally accessible, although some aspects are unduly complex.

Would you recommend it? A valuable critical resource for the study of human rights.

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