Course information




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

Core modules

In the first part of your degree, you will study the following core modules. These will introduce you to key debates concerning human rights and teach you practical skills relevant to the field.

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

Option modules

In the second term, you will choose option modules worth 60 credits in Sociology, Media and CommunicationsEnglish and Comparative Literature, AnthropologyPolitics, Music and Educational Studies.

This includes the following option module, which is available to Human Rights students only:

Practising Human Rights (30 credits)
This series of workshops accompanies a placement in an organisation or grassroots activist network. We will discuss diaries that each participant will carry out during the placements in the context of broader debates about human rights and professional practice, organisations and activism.

As a requirement for this option, you will negotiate a placement in an organisation whose work can be related to human rights or practical involvement in a grassroots campaign.

This module is not a requirement but is strongly recommended for students on this programme.


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. 


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 latest 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.

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

Find out more about tuition fees.

Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants. 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.


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).


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


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.

What our students say


"I had enriching debates with professors and colleagues."

"I am Managing Editor for Hiber magazine. Working in in-depth journalism with an interest in human rights, inequality, and political change, I always thought that covering complex social issues requires more than the skill-based and often technical training we usually receive before becoming media practitioners. It requires a deep understanding of how social struggles around these issues can intersect, converge, and sometimes clash.

I came to this course at Goldsmiths hoping to gain such an understanding, trusting that what it has to offer goes well beyond the boundaries of legal approaches to human rights.

The education I received, especially through the enriching debates with professors and colleagues, has sharpened my theoretical knowledge and analytical skills, making me more confident in engaging with bigger, more complicated themes, both academically and journalistically."  


"Goldsmiths' academic reputation, diverse atmosphere and the fact it welcomes international students encouraged me to enrol."

"Goldsmiths was listed amongst the best when I searched for social science courses in London. Its academic reputation, diverse atmosphere and the fact it welcomes international students encouraged me to enrol after being awarded a Chevening scholarship.

I chose the MA in Human Rights, Culture and Social Justice as I had worked with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on issues of refugees and IDPs rights and I wanted to get more experience in this field. The course complemented my professional experience, provided me with research tools and academic knowledge about the construction and vernacularization of human rights in communities, and allowed me to understand human rights from a social angle.

The class included students from different parts of the world who shared their impressive experiences. It was a very productive year for me personally and academically."


"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Goldsmiths, where I met some of the most inspiring people I know."

I chose the MA in Human Rights, Culture and Social Justice because I wanted to conduct research and challenge the concept of human rights beyond its legal framework, in order to understand it and deconstruct it from a sociological and philosophical point of view.

Having worked in the NGO sector for several years, the MA has helped me develop critical thinking and analytical skills which have improved the way I approach my job as a human rights campaigner.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Goldsmiths, where I met some of the most inspiring people I know.

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