Rights are shaped through actual struggles informed by people’s own understandings of to what they are justly entitled.
Looking for the meaning of rights from the perspective of those claiming them transforms defined normative parameters of human rights debates, questions established conceptual categories and expands the range of claims that are validated as rights. Drawing out these “actor-oriented perspectives” on rights can shed new light on some key debates that have gone on among human rights legal practitioners and scholars such as the tensions between universalist and cultural relativist approaches to rights; between group rights and individual rights; between civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights; and around the accountability of non-state actors in upholding rights. Bottom-up actor-oriented perspectives shaped by specific human rights struggles question the premises of these debates, by bringing the perspective of actors engaged in struggles for rights to the fore. These perspectives are at the core of a rights-based approach to development.
This article will demonstrate how focusing on specific struggles for rights can challenge the parameters of these debates. Further, this article will contextualise a rights-based approach to development within an actor-orientated perspective in terms of particular struggles around rights, drawing both from accounts of these struggles and critical responses to the debates outlined above to point to the possibility of an actor-oriented perspective on rights. Finally, this article will highlight some of the implications of an actor oriented perspective in terms of putting rights based approaches into practice in development.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.1 (2005) An Actor‐oriented Approach to Rights in Development