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Human rights and citizenship
education: re-positioning the debate
Dina Kiwan
a
a
Birkbeck College, University of London, UK
Version of record first published: 21 Feb 2012.
To cite this article: Dina Kiwan (2012): Human rights and citizenship education: re-positioning the
debate, Cambridge Journal of Education, 42:1, 1-7
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2011.652402
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EDITORIAL
Human rights and citizenship education: re-positioning the debate
I am delighted to act as Guest Editor and to introduce this special issue on Human
Rights and Citizenship Education, which is based on a selection of papers drawn
from the 2009 annual conference of the International Centre for Education for Demo-
cratic Citizenship (ICEDC), University of London.
1
This highly successful confer-
ence hosted a range of eminent keynote speakers, including Professor Daniele
Archibugi, Professor Bill Bowring, and Dr Hugh Starkey, whose articles appear in
this special issue. In addition, a number of papers were selected from the conference,
where papers were presented from a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary
elds including education, law and political philosophy, as well as papers from poli-
cymaker and practitioner perspectives. As a truly international conference, presenters
came from over 15 countries, including Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait,
Mexico, Norway, Taiwan, USA, and South Africa, as well as from across the UK.
In this introductory piece, three key themes are highlighted for debate in the
often controversial relationship between human rights and citizenship/citizenship
education. The papers in this special issue are positioned in relation to these three
key themes.
Special issue themes
This special issue provides an important opportunity to revisit the debate about the
relationship between human rights and citizenship education. From a variety of per-
spectives, this special issue considers the implications philosophically, sociologi-
cally, legally, and in educational terms of the distinction between the more
universalistic human rights accorded to all because of their membership of the
human species, and the more particularistic citizenship rights, accorded to those
who are members of a political community that is, accorded to those that have
formal citizenship status.
I have conceptualised the papers as addressing the following three themes: (1)
Human rights and citizenship: complementary or competing conceptions?; (2)
Justications for human rights; and (3) Examining human rights and citizenship
in different cultural contexts. Whilst these themes are not mutually exclusive, and
whilst the papers do not exclusively fall into only one of the above three themes, I
propose that this approach allows for highlighting key themes addressed across the
special issue as a whole.
Human rights and citizenship: complementary or competing conceptions?
The rise of human rights can be situated in the context of post-World War II, with
the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations in 1945, followed in 1948 by the
Cambridge Journal of Education
Vol. 42, No. 1, March 2012, 17
ISSN 0305-764X print/ISSN 1469-3577 online
2012 University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2011.652402
http://www.tandfonline.com
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passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document takes the
form of a declaration of basic minimum standards that citizens can (or should)
expect from the nation-state; it subsequently led to the development and adoption in
1966 of two legally binding treaties the International Covenant on Civil and Polit-
ical Rights, and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(Douzinas, 2007).
In philosophical terms, contemporary conceptions of human rights have their
roots in eighteenth-century Western European theory framed legally in terms of the
rights of the individual against the state (Leary, 1990). It has been argued that the
source of human rights is the individuals moral nature (Freeman, 1994). While
international human rights instruments clearly have been developed in response to,
and indeed reect particular contemporary socio-political concerns and events, they
nevertheless reect a particular philosophical understanding of what it means to be
a human being (Kiwan, 2008). For example, the 1948 Universal Declaration of
Human Rights refers to the human rights of all human beings, linking it to the idea
of the dignity of the human person (United Nations., 1948). Hence human rights
are conceptualised in terms of a particular understanding of what it means to be a
human being that is, to be a human being is essentially a universal moral
experience.
Contemporary human rights discourses are increasingly being coupled to dis-
courses on citizenship and citizenship education. It has been proposed, for example,
that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an ideal basis for citi-
zenship education, arguing that rights are central to concepts of citizenship and
democracy in clarifying the standards which the citizens agree to share (Alderson,
2000, p. 115). In philosophical terms, human rights are conceived as natural,
rather than being derived from the state. Underpinning human rights is the notion
of common humanity, based on ethical and legal conceptualisations of the individ-
ual. Yet in terms of practice, clearly the possession and exercise of human rights
cannot occur outside of a political community. Whilst citizenship is also a contested
concept (Kiwan, 2008) with competing discourses locating the community at
local, national and global levels, as well as conceptions that are participative as
opposed to more passive conceptions citizenship rights are underpinned in relation
to a political community, based on political and legal understandings of the
individual (Kiwan, 2005).
Douzinas (2007) argues that the term human rights is problematic and para-
doxical in that it combines law and morality, description and prescription (p. 9).
The word rights indicates that it is a legal category, whilst the term human refers
to a moral framing of the individual in relation to the law. As human rights can be
claims that may not actually be recognised in law, this entails operating in the
domain of aspiration as opposed to legal reality what Douzinas (2007) describes
as the confounding of the real and the ideal characteristic of human rights dis-
course (p. 10). This argument can be juxtaposed with the approaches of Archibugi
and Starkey, the rst two papers of this special issue, where Archibugi argues for
cosmopolitan democracy promoted through, for example, a global rule of law, and
Starkey proposes that a utopian and cosmopolitan vision of human rights has the
potential to underpin citizenship education.
In Archibugis paper on cosmopolitan democracy that opens the special issue,
he highlights a crucial contradiction that whilst democracy is promoted as a uni-
versally superior system, globalisation and global systems themselves are not run
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DDHH.:
Problematic=
legal and
moral
according to democratic values. As a political theorist of international relations, as
well as an advisor to the EU and various UN agencies, his core argument is that
democracy need not be limited to the boundaries of the state, but that it can also
inform international organisations and global politics. However, he warns against
the misapprehension that there is a causal link between democracy and peace.
Instead he asserts that peace can only be sustainably achieved through the internal
constitution of the individual state in question, and moreover exporting democracy
through war contradicts the democratic processes this supposedly builds on. He pro-
poses that cosmopolitan democracy can be dened in terms of an international
system based on cooperation and dialogue in order to foster authentic grassroots
democratic processes. This can be conceptualised in terms of linked levels of gover-
nance local, state, regional and global. Archibugi proposes that cosmopolitan
democracy may be promoted through the domains of developing a global rule of
law, direct participation of stake-holders in trans-border political decisions, and the
possibility to give voice to citizens through a World Parliamentary Assembly.
Whilst Archibugi is not an educationalist, the inclusion of this paper in this special
issue contains important ideas for an educationalist audience to contemplate with
regard to its potential implications for citizenship education.
Starkeys paper applies some of the themes of cosmopolitanism discussed in
Archibugis paper, focussing on the nature of the democratic processes, and drawing
out their educational implications. In particular, he proposes that education is criti-
cally important in the transmission of universal principles, in order to live together.
According to Starkey, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be seen as a
cosmopolitan text in perspective with a utopian vision. He argues for a cosmo-
politan citizenship education, suggesting that such an approach has the most poten-
tial to be inclusive in diverse multicultural societies, and proposes that human rights
are the utopian and cosmopolitan vision that can inform such a citizenship educa-
tion.
Starkeys position is challenged by Hung, although a different theoretical argu-
ment is presented and developed. Hung warns against the theoretical conation of
human rights and citizenship, which leads to forms of citizenship education that are
premised or underpinned by a commitment to human rights principles. Drawing
theoretical inspiration from Agamben, Merleau-Monty and Iris Marion Young,
Hung argues that the notion of a global community instead of promoting the
maximal inclusion that it intends can actually undermine inclusion through pro-
moting homogeneity and thus acts in an exclusionary manner. Hung draws out the
educational implications for human rights education, which she explicitly distin-
guishes from her recommendations for citizenship education.
Justications for human rights
It is often argued by human rights proponents that justications for human rights
are linked to claims of universality. Yet Donnelly (2007) acknowledges that some
accounts of the universality of human rights are problematic empirically, philo-
sophically or politically (p. 281). As a way forward he attempts to delineate differ-
ent forms of universality where he defends functional and legal accounts of
universality, whilst conceding the probable indefensibility of anthropological and
ontological universality. Functional universality refers to the idea that human
rights arose within a particular socio-economic and political context of modernity;
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democracy
and "export
with war":
contradiction
DDHH
education
similar to
citizenship
education
DDHH
education
DIFFERENT
to citizenship
education
however, this does not necessarily logically support Donnellys claim that human
rights represent the most effective response to a wide range of standard threats
to human dignity (p. 287) and the only effective means to assure human dignity
in societies dominated by markets and states (p. 288). As such, functional univer-
sality cannot be presented as a justication for the universality of human rights.
Donnelly (2007) also proposes the idea of overlapping consensus universality,
where he argues that international legal universality is reected in moral and politi-
cal theory, and as such he proposes that those coming from a range of different reli-
gious, moral or philosophical doctrines might ostensibly be able to achieve an
overlapping consensus. He concludes by proposing a relative universality dis-
tinguishing between the universality at the level of concept and at the level of prac-
tice. However, the observation that there may be an overlapping consensus amongst
different traditions at the level of concepts is not in itself the justication for univer-
sality of human rights. Goodhart (2008) argues that human rights are a resource for
people in terms of aspiration rather than moral truth and as such the legitimacy
of human rights does not come from proving universality. He is troubled by Don-
nellys concept of the relative universality of human rights, arguing instead that
the legitimacy of human rights instead comes from their global appeal. Clearly,
however, legitimacy does not stem from universality, rather than the reverse, as this
reduces legitimacy to democratic popularity (Donnelly, 2008), confounding legal
grounding with democratic grounding (Ferrara, 2003), and also potentially raising
the accusation of imperial humanitarianism
2
(Donnelly, 2007, p. 298).
So how else might justications for human rights be framed? Simpson (1997)
highlights Carol Gilligans (1982) distinction between a justice perspective
which invokes rights where people are primarily viewed as independent and sepa-
rate beings, from a care perspective an approach that emphasises connection,
concern for relationships and responsibilities. From a justice perspective, self-inter-
est and personal choice precede connection and action; in addition, obligations are
always seen to stem from rights, rather than strictly obligation per se that is,
being central to morality in the care perspective. Simpson goes on to argue that
rights as theoretical entities do little useful work and warns us of the predomi-
nance of rights talk in the language of politics what Douzinas (2007) calls the
ideology after the end of ideologies (p. 33), where often rights talk obliges no one
in particular as they do not arise from specic relationships. In addition, such
rights thinking which is ultimately dependent on its usefulness, might provide an
explanatory function, but ultimately does not provide justication for such a way of
thinking which is crucially important if we are interested in the validity of rights
thinking (Simpson, 1997). Indeed, Douzinas (2007) argues that an overarching nor-
mative framework for human rights cannot be achieved, but rather human rights,
although supposedly meant to operate above politics (p. 11), are operationalised in
the context of the interests, negotiation and compromises of states (p. 11). This
raises a structural problem with respect to the operationalising of human rights.
Whilst human rights claims can challenge existing inequalities, they must appeal to
those very structures to make their claims (Benhabib, 2005; Douzinas, 2007; Soy-
sal, 1994). Human rights also act to depoliticise exclusion and conict by framing
these issues in terms of individual claims with a corresponding legal remedy, which
Douzinas eloquently describes as for the rights fanatics, history ends in the univer-
sal acceptance of human rights which turn political conict into technical litigation
(Douzinas, 2000, p. 14).
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Bowrings paper, in contrast to the cosmopolitan and utopian vision of human
rights championed by Starkey, argues that the presentation of human rights is
always contested. He highlights a number of key features pertaining to the UK con-
text that compromise its implementation of human rights and human rights educa-
tion. This includes the UKs refusal to recognise economic and social rights, and
the failure to come to terms with Empire and the slave trade that further compro-
mises the recognition and implementation of human rights. By invoking a compari-
son with France, Bowring elucidates how the development of human rights is
contextually dependent on a series of revolutionary struggles. In this way, human
rights are not dependent on theoretical justications in terms of universality as
advocated by Donnelly (2007; 2008), but are more in line with the approach to
rights from a care perspective (Gilligan, 1982), where rights are contextualised in
terms of relationships between people and groups of people, and dependent on
struggles for rights. He concludes by making a number of pedagogical suggestions
with regards to the teaching of human rights.
The next paper, McCowans paper, provides a theoretical exploration of the
diverse justications made for promoting human rights within education, where he
draws the useful distinction between status-based and instrumental approaches. A
further distinction is made between instrumental approaches that might undermine
the nature of rights, and those that can be complementary. McCowan offers a cau-
tionary note to approaches that he describes as partially instrumental. Whilst rec-
ognising that instrumental justications are provided to encourage governments to
adopt such approaches, he warns against dressing up principled arguments in prag-
matic terms as rights-based approaches may be abandoned if other approaches are
found to be more efcacious. The educational implications of separating learning
processes from outcomes are discussed.
Examining human rights and citizenship in different cultural contexts
Theoretical debates relating to the universality of human rights come to life when we
consider what this means in practice, by examining the applications of human rights,
citizenship, education for human rights and education for citizenship in different cul-
tural contexts. It is argued by some that human rights are essentially a Western con-
struct that do not translate well in non-Western contexts, whilst others argue that
human rights are universal, and should therefore be legitimate within any cultural
context. Different cultures clearly hold different conceptions of what it means to be a
human being, as to be a citizen, as well as different constructions of individual and
group identity, which all impact on how human rights and citizenship are represented
in legal terms. In considering how identity is represented in law, Douzinas (2007)
argues that it should be recognised that identity is a negotiation, mediated by legal,
social and political institutions; moreover, legal recognition implies that to be a per-
son you must be in the law, you must have rights (Douzinas, 2007, p. 39).
Not only are human rights constructed differently in different nation-state con-
texts, they are constructed differentially within a given nation-state depending on
the legal position of the individual, thus undermining the logic of the universality
of human rights in law. This becomes clear when we consider the position of
migrants. Soysal (1994) has shown the blurring of citizen and non-citizen status in
the European context, where she illustrated that entitlement to many social and
economic rights is not dependent on citizenship status. However, whilst legal
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DDHH more
from care
than from
legal
migrants are often entitled to many civil and social rights in European nation-states,
as well as being protected by legislation and the transnational level and sub-nation-
ally, the same cannot be said for refugees, asylum seekers and illegal (or irregular)
migrants. In this regard, Soysals (1994) optimistic conclusion that the logic of per-
sonhood supercedes the logic of national citizenship (p. 164) clearly does not apply
to those of irregular status. Douzinas (2007, p. 44) further argues that society is pre-
sented as a patchwork where differences are domesticated which suppresses the
ability to develop political resistance. This is because the language and practice of
rights present difference as natural, but are not able to contextualise the socio-
cultural and political conditions that can lead to the exploitation of those that come
to be dened as other. It is important, in educational terms, that pupils become
aware that human rights as a supposedly universal concept not only takes on differ-
ent cultural forms across different societal contexts, but that within any given soci-
ety, ones human rights are inextricably linked with ones citizenship status in law.
The last two papers of the issue address the fundamental debate surrounding the
universal nature of human rights, the role of culture in shaping human rights as a
concept, and the inter-relationships between culture, religion, human rights, citizen-
ship and education. Takedas paper examines human rights education in the Japa-
nese context, following its implementation during the UN Decade for Human
Rights Education in the mid-1990s. She illustrates how key characteristics of Japa-
nese culture have impacted on the reception and implementation of human rights
and human rights education, making a number of educational recommendations.
The nal paper, by Al-Nakib, examines the inter-related themes of democracy,
human rights education and international organisations through a case study of a
newly developed human rights education curriculum in a secondary school in
Kuwait. This paper also illustrates tensions between concepts that are presented as
universally accepted and local cultures, and how educational systems, processes,
teachers, students and parents negotiate these tensions.
In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Hugh Starkey
for his support as co-Director of ICEDC. I would also like to thank Anne Chippin-
dale and Professor Terry Haydn of the Cambridge Journal of Education for their
assistance and support throughout this process. In addition, I would like to thank
the reviewers for their most helpful comments. Finally, it has been an honour and
pleasure working with all the contributors of this special issue, who have made this
an intellectually stimulating collaboration, and to the conference participants who
have also contributed to a rich and lively dialogue.
Notes
1. ICEDC, a joint centre of Birkbeck College and the Institute of Education, both Univer-
sity of London, was launched in 2007 and is co-directed by Dr Dina Kiwan, Birkbeck
College, and Dr Hugh Starkey, Institute of Education.
2. Connelly (2007) cites Gott (2002).
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Dina Kiwan
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Cambridge Journal of Education 7
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