Review of International Studies


The location of international practices: what is human rights practice?



This article opens up space to challenge state-centrism about human rights practice. To do so, it presents and critically assesses four methods that can be used to determine who and/or what counts as a part of any international practice: the agreement method, which locates a practice by referring to speech acts that define it; the contextual method, which locates a practice by referring to the actions, meanings, and intentions of practitioners; the value method, which locates a practice by identifying a value or principle that the practice reflects or instantiates; and the purpose method, which locates a practice by constructing an account of the sociopolitical reason(s) for a practice's existence. The purpose method, based on an interpretation of Rawls' constructivism, is developed, in a way that focuses on practitioners' judgement-based reasons to assign responsibility for human rights to any state or non-state actor.

(Online publication December 11 2012)

David Jason Karp is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow. His work has appeared in International Theory, Review of International Studies and Contemporary Political Theory. He has a book forthcoming with Cambridge University Press entitled Responsibility for Human Rights, which uses transnational corporations as the major example for the analysis. His current research interests include: business and human rights; constructivism in international political theory; non-state actors (especially in human rights and security studies); responsibility for human rights. He was the co-convenor of the Young Researchers' Workshop on Responsibility, Agency and Politics in International Humanitarianism and Human Rights, at the ECPR Standing Group on International Relations general conference in Stockholm (September 2010).


*  Thanks to Kirsten Ainley, Chris Brown, Alasdair Young, three peer reviewers, and the editors of the Review of International Studies, for their helpful comments. Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at: the ECPR Standing Group on International Relations (SGIR) General Conference, Stockholm (September 2010); the International Studies Association (ISA) Annual Convention, New Orleans (February 2010); and the CRIPT-BISA workshop on Classical IR and Political Theory, Aberystwyth (May 2009). Thanks to all of the participants at these events for their engagement with this article. Numerous discussions with Saladin Meckled-Garcia have greatly influenced my thinking about the point and purpose of our concepts and practices.