Beyond Physical Integrity
This concluding essay to the “Future of Human Rights Scholarship” special issue outlines how political scientists could draw on developments in law and insights from history to take up a set of thus-far under-explored questions. While political science has made important advances in studying human rights, the field’s focus has been rather narrow. The bulk of human rights scholarship — especially recent empirical scholarship — has focused on respect for physical integrity rights: government-imposed torture, extrajudicial killing, unjust imprisonment, and other violations of bodily integrity. This disproportionate interest in physical-integrity rights mirrors international and comparative political scholarship’s broad emphasis on conflict, such as atrocities, civil wars, and other forms of political violence. These topics have overshadowed the small but growing research on what political scientists sometimes call “empowerment rights.” Empowerment rights prohibit non-violent government repression such as censorship and surveillance, as well as suppression of assembly and association, electoral, and religious rights. The conflict- and violent-repression-related literatures have also dwarfed research on “social rights” — the positive obligations of government to provide access to goods like healthcare, shelter, and education. Looking first at empowerment rights, and then at social rights, this Article argues that world developments over the last decade have made both rights especially salient topics for social science research. Those interested in rights and repression should dedicate some of their agendas to the protection and violation of empowerment rights like voting, free speech, and association, and to why governments succeed or fail in delivering social rights like healthcare, food, welfare, and housing. This Article also explains why these questions are ripe for academic inquiry and begins to sketch an outline for what those research agendas might look like.