From 'rights-based' to 'rights-framed' approaches : 'Rights talk', 'campaigns' and development NGOs

Miller, Hannah (2010) From 'rights-based' to 'rights-framed' approaches : 'Rights talk', 'campaigns' and development NGOs. (PhD thesis), Roehampton University, .


Emerging in the mid 1990s, the dominant way in which a human rights discourse and practice has been formally incorporated within many development NGOs has been through what is commonly referred to as “rights-based approaches” (RBAs). This thesis speaks of RBAs as a ‘broad umbrella concept’, thereby acknowledging their expansiveness and what in many ways appears to be a one-approach-fits-all message. However, despite considerable research into RBAs, little attention has been directed towards the boundaries of this concept. In order to approach this, this research develops three analytical themes: ‘rights talk’; theories of voice; and concepts of framing. By invoking a broad sociological approach to the study of human rights, premised on a social constructionist view of human rights practice, this research was built on two stages. The first stage involved documentary analysis of key publications and in-depth interviews with campaigners from within eight development NGOs. The NGOs were sub-categorised as: ‘relief’, ‘faith-based’ and ‘political’. The second stage involved an ethnographic study of one of the ‘political’ NGOs. This study was used to develop an initial case study for an alternative to RBAs to be established. Grounded in the voices expressed across both stages of the research, this thesis provides a conceptual distinction between approaches ‘inside’, ‘alongside’ and ‘outside’ RBAs. It develops this by identifying three key ‘perspectives’ on rights talk. The thesis then builds on this analysis by proposing a new approach, identified as ‘rights-framed approaches’. Rights-framed approaches are proposed on six core dimensions. They contribute a new framework, revealing key ways in which campaigns can be framed through a human rights discourse and practice, whilst remaining ‘outside’ of RBAs. Through this proposal, the 1 thesis aims to move discussions within the existing literatures away from the dominance of the concept of RBAs, towards alternative approaches.

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