What do human rights mean in development?

Paul Gready*, Jonathan Ensor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Human rights are an established part of development discourse, yet attempts to bind human rights and development have encountered resistance or scepticism. We argue that concepts and framings in this field are diverse and contested, and that the ensuing debates shed light on the role of power in development and international politics. The chapter explores the forms that convergence between the two fields has taken (economic and social rights, right to development, rights-based approaches (RBAs) and human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) to development); paths to and implications of convergence; and the remaining sources of tension. The chapter concludes with a case study which identifies ways of resolving these tensions, focussing on RBAs and climate change. We argue that convergence between the two fields is neither a fad nor a one-dimensional process. Rather the ‘slow weaving’ of connecting threads sheds light on the politics of development. Human rights have their most profound impact on development when understood through context-based struggles and modes of practice, when they enable practitioners to ‘take sides’ with the poorest and challenge unequal power relations in collaboration with local actors, and when secured through both social and political processes and legal or administative systems.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of International Development
EditorsD Hammett, J Grugel
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781137427243
ISBN (Print)9781137427236
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

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