Course information

Department

Sociology

Length

1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

Course overview

This MA examines contemporary issues concerning justice. You will learn how to conceptualise and study the possibilities of human rights, going beyond legal formulations to look at the conditions in which human rights claims are made.

Human rights mobilise millions of supporters across borders, inspiring passion and hope. And they operate at and between all the scales involved in globalisation: local, national, international, transnational. They are moral claims to justice. Although often associated with law, human rights are not the same as legal rights – human rights can be claimed where no legal rights are codified, even if changes in the law are invariably called for as part of attempts to realise human rights in practice. 

Human rights are carried by different actors:

  • grassroots social movements, small Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and huge International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs)
  • lawyers and judges
  • bureaucrats and experts in Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) even, sometimes, national politicians
  • journalists, novelists, translators, artists, filmmakers

These different actors are often at odds with each other in defining and defending particular justifications of what human rights are and should be. 

In this Masters you will learn about how human rights are constructed, exploring framings of human rights through case studies; and you will begin to practice some of the methodologies and methods that are currently used in NGOs and grassroots activist networks trying to remedy global injustices. 

The focus on culture that runs through the programme makes for an emphasis on concrete, situated practices and meanings. Can human rights contribute to a global culture in which injustices figure as ‘wrongs’? Or are human rights invariably skewed, constructing injustices in ways that suit international elites better than they suit people who are suffering? Do human rights do violence to local cultures? Are they an appropriate response to local violence? In this MA we contextualise the study of how human rights are constructed in micro-processes, in the media and face-to-face in relation to debates over macro-structures, processes of globalisation and the institutions of global governance. 

In terms of social justice, the MA is set up to study human rights beyond narrow, legalistic definitions. We look at what really makes a difference in terms of realising human rights in practice. Can human rights really be constructed in ways that challenge and overturn established social structures? Can rights be claimed in such a way that they can really protect us as human beings against the ‘creative destruction’ of global capitalism, state repression, the subjugation of women, and hatred and violence against minorities of all kinds – sexual, ethnic, religious?

This course covers the following disciplines: sociology, politics, anthropology, law, geography, English, literature, cultural studies, criminology

Contact the department

If you have specific questions about the degree, contact Kiran Grewal.

What you'll study

Compulsory modules

In the first part of your degree, you will study the following compulsory modules. These will introduce you to key debates concerning human rights and teach you practical skills relevant to the field. You will also write a dissertation worth 60 credits.

Compulsory modules Module title Credits
  Constructing Human Rights 30 credits
  Researching Human Rights 30 credits

Dissertation

You will also write a 12,000-word dissertation (60 credits) based on your own research, which may be related to the NGO or network you have worked in and which makes use of a range of concepts and methods taught in the Department. You will be supervised by someone with expertise and interest in the topic you are studying and the methodologies you plan to use. 

Option modules

In the second term, you will choose 60 credits of option modules form the departmental list.

This includes Practicing Human Rights, which is available to Human Rights students only. This is not a compulsory module, but is strongly recommended for students on this programme.

You can also choose option modules from the following Departments across Goldsmiths. Not all modules are suitable for students from all academic backgrounds; you will discuss your choices with the Programme Convenor at the start of your degree.

Department of Media, Communications, and Cutltural Studies
Department of Anthropology
Department of Politics and International Relations
Department of English and Comparative Literature
Department of Music
Department of Educational Studies

Module title Credits
  Practising Human Rights 15 credits

Assessment

Assessment consists of coursework, extended essays, reports, presentations, practice-based projects or essays/logs, group projects, reflective essays, and seen and unseen written examinations.

Download the programme specification. If you would like an earlier version of the programme specification, please contact the Quality Office.

Please note that due to staff research commitments not all of these modules may be available every year.

What our students say

Beenish Shaikh

Studying at Goldsmiths was about more than getting a Masters for me – it was also about building lifelong friendships, the growth that I have experienced not only professionally but also personally, and the faculty members who not only assisted me academically but are now my mentors and friends for life.

When I came to London, I was overwhelmed, confused, and scared. Coming from India, one of my biggest challenges was getting settled into a new education system. As an international student, my other challenges included making friends, getting adjusted to the new environment, balancing my studies and social life, and finding good work experience.

Fast forward one year. Today I am working for a grassroots organization called Henna Asian Women's Group. I work as a Support Officer on HELP Project which works for the rights of Asian women who have been victims of crime and abuse. Three months ago, I was promoted to Project Management and Volunteer coordinator role. My dissertation on "How the implementation of the burqa ban in Denmark affected the everyday lived experiences of Danish Muslim women" is in the process of being published by an organization in Denmark. I am starting a recruitment advocacy network for Muslim women in the UK focusing on those who come from underrepresented, vulnerable and marginalized backgrounds. One of the biggest achievement for me was getting a grant of £13,500 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation under "Ideas and Innovation Grant".

I wanted to do this MA because of my interest in the human rights sector. For someone who started with little background knowledge in the field of human rights, my overall experience with this course was positive and uplifting. My placement during the course further helped me in my career. Studying at Goldsmiths was more than getting a Masters for me – it was also about building lifelong friendships, the growth that I have experienced not only professionally but also personally, and the faculty members who not only assisted me academically but are now my mentors and friends for life.

Rosanna Ellul

So much of what I learnt at Goldsmiths fed into my current role with the National Preventive Mechanism - a body of 21 statutory organisations who monitor and inspect all places of detention across the UK to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

I completed the MA in Human Rights, Culture and Social Justice in 2019. After working in various roles for different human rights NGOs, I applied for the masters to develop my understanding of the international human rights framework in both its legal and practical applications. In particular, I was looking to research more closely the influence of human rights for people in detention. My final dissertation focused on the cultural importance of human rights for men and women on prison strike during the Northern Irish Troubles. So much of what I learnt at Goldsmiths fed into my current role with the National Preventive Mechanism - a body of 21 statutory organisations who monitor and inspect all places of detention across the UK to prevent torture and ill-treatment, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Perhaps the most exciting part of the course was examining the limits of human rights, and looking toward alternative routes to achieve real social justice. I aim to bring this learning with me to any future human rights role.

Ingerlise Allgaard

"With my background in the arts and activism, Goldsmiths provided a breathing space for me to combine the two in a university setting."

"With my background in the arts and activism, Goldsmiths provided a breathing space for me to combine the two in a university setting. This instantly made me feel accepted and welcomed. Other academic institutions have tried to force me into a distinct role where activism couldn't necessarily be combined with the arts and vice-versa. My lecturers Kiran Grewal and Kate Nash encouraged this combination.  They both challenged the conventional understanding and perception of what human rights entails, what they mean, and how to engage with them creatively and unconventionally. Our lecturers encouraged creative thinking and emphasised how it is through the appearance of human rights in local contexts that brings it meaning and that activism involving artistic actions can advance and mediate human rights in wider and more influential ways.

This process of non-exclusion was appealing because it encourages new expressions of what human rights can achieve when alliancing with the arts for example. In filmmaking, I constantly try to bring together various fields, genres, art forms and expressions instead of dividing them. This brings new dynamics and tensions to life, something the old book of teaching human rights could make use of, in order to explore where it can take new generations of activism.

The most significant experience was meeting my peers people from all over the world - all carrying so much knowledge and positive energy. This made the course feel very inclusive, diverse and accepting a space where everyone was invited to share stories, beliefs and experiences.

I enjoyed that the lecturers had all been outside in the real world and they brought their experiences and knowledge into the academic sphere with a roughness that made it very real and practically significant."

See more profiles for this programme

Entry requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least upper second class standard in a relevant/related subject. 

You might also be considered for some programmes if you aren’t a graduate or your degree is in an unrelated field, but have relevant experience and can show that you have the ability to work at postgraduate level.

International qualifications

We accept a wide range of international qualifications. Find out more about the qualifications we accept from around the world.

If English isn’t your first language, you will need an IELTS score (or equivalent English language qualification) of 6.5 with a 6.5 in writing and no element lower than 6.0 to study this programme. If you need assistance with your English language, we offer a range of courses that can help prepare you for postgraduate-level study.

Fees, funding & scholarships

Annual tuition fees

These are the fees for students starting their programme in the 2020/21 academic year.

  • Home - full-time: £8640
  • Home - part-time: £4320
  • EU - full-time: £8640
  • EU - part-time: £4320
  • International - full-time: £17070

If your fees are not listed here, please check our postgraduate fees guidance or contact the Fees Office, who can also advise you about how to pay your fees.

It’s not currently possible for international students to study part-time if you require a Tier 4 student visa, however this is currently being reviewed and will be confirmed in the new year. Please read our visa guidance in the interim for more information. If you think you might be eligible to study part-time while being on another visa type, please contact our Admissions Team for more information.

If you are looking to pay your fees please see our guide to making a payment.

Additional costs

In addition to your tuition fees, you'll be responsible for any additional costs associated with your course, such as buying stationery and paying for photocopying. You can find out more about what you need to budget for on our study costs page.

There may also be specific additional costs associated with your programme. This can include things like paying for field trips or specialist materials for your assignments. Please check the programme specification for more information.

Funding opportunities

Find out more about postgraduate fees and explore funding opportunities. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.

How to apply

You apply directly to Goldsmiths using our online application system. 

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have:

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments.
  • An electronic copy of your reference on letter headed paper, or alternatively the email address of your referee who we can request a reference from. It is preferred that you use an academic reference, however in cases where applicant sare unable to provide one, a professional reference is acceptable.
  • personal statement – this can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online.

          Please see our guidance on writing a postgraduate statement

  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory).

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an earlier application deadline.

Selection process

As part of the admissions process, you may be offered an informal interview with the Programme Convenor.

Find out more about applying.

Staff

The members of staff who are most closely associated with teaching the MA include: 

Suggested reading

Suggested reading before you begin the course:

  • A.An’Naim (2001) ‘Human Rights’ in J. Blau (Ed) Blackwell Companion to Sociology Oxford: Blackwell
  • A. Brysk (2013) Speaking Rights to Power: Constructing Political Will Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • J. Cowan, M-B Dembour and R. Wilson (eds) (2001) Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • J. Donnelly (2013) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice Ithaca: Cornell University Press 3rd edition.
  • K. Grewal (2017) The Socio-Political Practice of Human Rights: Between the Universal and the Particular London and New York: Routledge
  • M. Freeman (2002) Human Rights Cambridge: Polity
  • L. Morris (2013) Human Rights and Social Theory Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • K. Nash (2015) The Political Sociology of Human Rights Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

You will find additional reading by members of staff involved on the MA on their webpages (see staff details above).

Research

The research interests of the people involved in teaching on the MA are especially linked to two centres at Goldsmiths: 

Careers

As issues of globalisation and justice are frequently in the media, and government policy in the UK, US, and elsewhere in Europe is now supposed to be guided by considerations of humanitarianism and human rights, there is a need for graduates with knowledge of human rights. 

There are openings for careers in organisations including charities, humanitarian and human rights NGOs and even multi-national corporations, many of which are now concerned with their image in terms of human rights. 

Find out more about employability at Goldsmiths.

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