Test of Our Progress: The Translation of Economic and Social Rights Norms Into Practice

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21 Scopus citations


The application of the language of "rights" to the economic and social conditions of the world's impoverished populations has gained a great deal of momentum in recent years. Yet, given the continuing pervasiveness of basic deprivations for the world's poor, there is a pressing need to examine precisely how economic and social rights norms (as reflected in international treaties and other multilateral documents) are translated into practices. This article seeks to synthesize the theoretical literature on economic and social rights (ESR) and to examine the variety of legal, institutional, and political mechanisms that facilitate their realization. We utilize legal, anthropological, and sociological theory to identify institutional and cultural factors that affect norm translation, as well as adaptive, processual, and emergent dynamics that may alter outcomes. In moving from theory to method, we conceptualize a number of factors that contribute to rights realization, operationalize them by describing how translation mechanisms of each might manifest in real-world settings where rights are at stake and compile a list of questions and indicators that can be used to measure them. We hope this overview will assist in expanding and enriching human rights theory, facilitate the empirical study of economic justice and thereby contribute to efforts for making economic and social rights a reality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-520
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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