POLIS 2096 - Human Rights & Postcolonial Issues

North Terrace Campus - Summer - 2014

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies an ideal based on a recognition of the 'inalienable rights of all members of the human family'. That ideal is one which emerges from the profoundly important mission of imagining and realising a global human dignity. It's an ideal which is couched in a language and an imagination of global goals and aspirations and a universal human family. But that language does not exist in a political vacuum. It does not exist above or outside of ideology. There are many contentious issues related to the issue of universal human rights, and many ideological battlegrounds. This course will engage with some of these issues, primarily through a postcolonial theoretical lens. The course will explore some postcolonial critiques of dominant human rights discourses, and other related critiques too. Broadly, questions of whether absolutist frameworks are adequate to ethical and rights based issues will be addressed with the aim of critically examining what constitutes an appropriate imagination for the aspirations of the human family.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code POLIS 2096
    Course Human Rights & Postcolonial Issues
    Coordinating Unit Politics and International Relations
    Term Summer
    Level Undergraduate
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Up to 12 hours per week
    Prerequisites 12 units of level I study
    Incompatible POLI 2096
    Assessment 2250 word equivalent conference presentation and participation (50%); 2250 word essay (50%)
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Dr Kim Sorensen

    Course coordinator: Dr Kim Sorensen (kim.sorensen@adelaide.edu.au)
    Course tutors - there will be a comprehensive list of tutors on myuni

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

    See: https://access.adelaide.edu.au/courses/details.asp?year=2014&course=107056+1+3405+1.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    Students undertaking this course are expected to develop a depth and breadth of understanding of important human rights discourses as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, students will engage with the language of the declaration such that they discover and explore postcolonial critiques of dominant human rights discourses. Specifically, the anticipated knowledge, skills and attitude to be developed by students are:
    1 An ability to differentiate between information and knowledge.
    2 Showing familiarity with relevant terminology in postcolonial theory and in human rights discourses.
    3 An ability to define and research problems within discursive ethical, social, cultural and political boundaries.
    4 An ability to identify and analyse case studies on pertinent aspects of postcolonial theory and human rights discourses.
    5 The ability to undertake research in a self-directed manner yet also exchange ideas with peers in a collaborative manner.
    6 The capacity to critically evaluate a diversity of written materials and multi-media resources.
    7 A critical understanding of the contested nature of human rights discourses.
    8 The ability to present persuasive and sustained written and verbal arguments based on scholarly research and other relevant sources.
    9 The ability to develop and deliver clear and confident verbal presentations.
    10 The ability to evaluate ideas confidently, respectfully and thoughtfully.
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Knowledge and understanding of the content and techniques of a chosen discipline at advanced levels that are internationally recognised. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
    The ability to locate, analyse, evaluate and synthesise information from a wide variety of sources in a planned and timely manner. 4, 6, 9, 10
    An ability to apply effective, creative and innovative solutions, both independently and cooperatively, to current and future problems. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8
    Skills of a high order in interpersonal understanding, teamwork and communication. 5, 9, 10
    A proficiency in the appropriate use of contemporary technologies. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8
    A commitment to continuous learning and the capacity to maintain intellectual curiosity throughout life. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8
    A commitment to the highest standards of professional endeavour and the ability to take a leadership role in the community. 5, 8, 9, 10
    An awareness of ethical, social and cultural issues within a global context and their importance in the exercise of professional skills and responsibilities. 3, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    Debra L DeLaet, The Global Struggle for Human Rights: Universal Principles in World Politics (Belmont, CA: Thomson Wordsworth, 2006).

    Recommended Resources
    See MyUni for comprehensive list of recommended resources
    Online Learning
    See MyUni.

  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes
    This course is a mix of lectures, seminars and workshops. Seminars will incorporate small group
    activities and whole class discussions, while the workshops will incorporate individual presentations as well as question and answer time for a few minutes at the end of each presentation.


    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in  engaging appropriately with the course requirements. (Note: 3 unit  courses are required to have minimum workload of 156 hours irrespective  of the length of the course, and a 3 unit course taught in intensive  mode requires a minimum of 36 contact hours.)
    Lectures   12 contact hours per semester
    Seminars 14 contact hours per semester
    Workshops 14 contact hours per semester
    Seminar preparation 20 hours per semester
    Workshop preparation 24 hours per semester
    Research and writing assessment 74 hours per semester
    Total 156 hours per semester

    Learning Activities Summary
    Topic One (lecture one and seminar one): Introduction to the construction of knowledge and the evaluation of issues relating to postcolonial epistemology. How do we know what we know? What are the limits of our knowledge? How do we identify the limits (broadly defined) of our knowledge? Why, how and to what ends do postcolonial theorists problematise the construction of knowledge?

    Topic Two (lecture two and seminar two): Ethics and cultural relativism. What kinds of ethical frameworks are there? What are some ways of thinking about morality and ethics when the world is in constant flux? What does it mean to have an ‘ethical compass’?

    Topic Three (lecture three and seminar three): Defining the nature and scope of universal human rights. What makes universal human rights exactly that: ‘universal’ and ‘human rights’? Discussion of the three generation of human rights: (1) political and civil rights; (2) social and economic rights; and (3) group or solidarity rights.

    Topic Four (lecture four and seminar): Human rights and postcolonial issues. A critical analysis of the absolutist paradigm of human rights and underlying colonial discourses. Citizenship, social justice and human rights — how are they linked?

    Specific Course Requirements
    Timetabled conference attendance over two days in week three.

  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Seminar attendance and participation: 15%
    Essay: 50%
    Conference/workshop paper presentation: 35%

    Assessment Detail
    Seminars (15%)
    Seminars in this subject are designed to:
    • help you clarify key concepts introduced in the lectures;
    • assess the range of arguments that surround the most prominent ethical questions in politics and international relations;
    • improve your general knowledge of politics and international relations.
    Seminars are forums for the free exchange and discussion of informed opinions — that is, ideas and thoughts based on reading and reflection — as well as places for raising questions and for the exchange of information relevant to the course. Seminars are undoubtedly the forum where most of the learning takes place, but the quality of seminar discussions hinges on the quality of the preparation, that is, on the level of reading and reflection on the seminar topics. The other crucial aspect for fruitful seminars is the attention, respect, open-mindedness and spirit of critical inquiry with which students and tutors should approach the activity. Indeed, while this course does not aim to change your views, you will be encouraged to critically assess those ideas and justify them in an intellectually cogent manner. Note also that with a subject like this, there is a problematic tendency for discussions to descend into polemics. You will be encouraged, therefore, to provide reasoned arguments to explain your views. You will also be encouraged to approach dilemmas from viewpoints other than your own in order to think through alternative forms of reasoning.

    With these principles in mind, I encourage you to participate in the seminar discussions outlined in the course schedule (Appendix A).

    Seminar AssessmentSeminar assessment will be based on these criteria: preparation (reading), attendance and participation in the seminar discussions and activities as detailed in the course schedule (Appendix A).

    Seminar Readings
    Rather than provide a reader in this course, I encourage self-directed research instead. It is expected that you will read (and prepare evidence of reading) at least five scholarly pieces before each session. Scholarly pieces can be derived from literature searches using tools such as Google Scholar (a quick link for which is available on the University of Adelaide library homepage), and databases such as Sociological Abstracts (ProQuest) (available through the database collection in the University of Adelaide library catalogue), using the indicative reading suggestions as inspiration. Please note that, in addition to these readings, you will need to pace yourselves to do considerable further reading over the course to prepare for the essay.

    There is a textbook for this course to which you will refer regularly; however, this provides only a broad outline or basic foundation with regard to human rights issues. To assist with your further reading, indicative readings are contained in the course schedule, listed under each topic; this is not a reading list but instead a hint about the sort of material you should be reading or the kind of subject areas and key words you should be researching around.

    In essence, I encourage self-directed research for three reasons:

    1. I want to promote your ability to research human rights — this is part of an ability, and underpins a capacity, to reflect critically on human rights. This course is not just about absorbing information; instead, it is about being informed.

    2. Whilst I facilitate and direct this course, I want you to find your path as independently as you can. I have views on this subject, as do other members of the teaching team, and I want you to have your own views as well — this comes from ownership and finding your path, not from adopting mine. I will give you guidance, but you will own your research and reading.

    3. Variety. In a perfect seminar, we have all read on the same themes, but we have all read different and differing sources and we all have something unique to contribute. This fosters participation and adds value and variety. It allows learners and teachers to swap, blend and meld roles in critical and reflective dialogue.

    If there are valid reasons why you cannot contribute fully or effectively to a specific seminar discussion, please raise them privately with your tutor prior to the seminar.

    Essay (50%) 2250 words
    In preparation for the second seminar, and during the course of that seminar, you will decide on a research topic for you major piece of assessment and conference presentation. These should be the same topic, with your essay being a more in depth elaboration on research which you have undertaken for your presentation. A  preliminary reading list which may help with your essays begins in the indicative reading list for session four.

    Workshop/Conference Paper Presentation (35%)
    The course conference, divided into three workshop groups, will run over two days at the end of the course. All students need to attend a particular workshop group for the whole conference, where they will listen to their peers in their workshop group present papers, and where they will contribute questions from the floor to debate. Each student will present a 7-8 minute scholarly, researched conference paper in their allocated session, and will be expected to take questions from the floor for a few minutes. The same criteria for marking will be used as for an essay, but with obvious consideration for presentation.

    Conference papers, in essence, will be work in-progress presentations on the essay, but they must stand alone as polished works. You will pick your conference topic in seminar one and prepare the presentation throughout weeks one and two of the course. This means that you will be well advanced in your conference preparation — which must relate directly to human rights issues and/or postcolonial issues — before we even get to the week two lectures and seminar topics which deal directly with human rights. This tells you two things. First, you need to be reading well ahead of the sessions, as this course is all about reading. The lectures give some shape, some inflections and some ideas, but your main task in this course is to immerse yourself in a self-directed literature review, and to do that you will need to be reading ahead of the pace of the lectures and at a rate which equates to full immersion. Second, you need to be fluid: fill yourself with as much information and as many ideas as possible, and bring those ideas to the table, but be prepared to modify your thinking as discussions unfold. Think about your conference presentation with the same sense of fluidity: enjoy the processes of thinking, research and preparation, but be prepared to distil and reshape it as the lecture series unfolds. Nothing gets wasted in this, and it is a good exercise in thinking on the fly, which is what the conference is all about. You get to do the slow, steady thinking with the essay. With the conference, you get to demonstrate another kind of intelligence.
    Electronic submission only via the turnitin link on myuni
    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy (http://www.adelaide.edu.au/policies/101/) course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
    Occupational, Health & Safety (OH&S)
    The  School of History & Politics is committed to upholding the  Unviersity's Policy on OH&S. All staff and students have a legal  responsibliity to act in the interests of themselves and others with  respect to OH&S. For information on the School's contingency plan  and emergency procedures, please see the OH&S section on the school website

  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

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