Rights Are Powerful Tools for Social Change; Law and Sociology


We live in a period of hyper-disparity: seven out of ten of the total populace live in nations where imbalance has ascended over the most recent three decades. Oxfam as of late present that the population of a double decker bus (about 85 persons) possess a similar riches as the less fortunate portion of billions of the total populace.

Are human rights a viable tool for societal transformation? The appropriate response must be a resonating ‘truly, but’. Human rights have motivated and supported probably the best developments for change in our reality. They express probably the most noteworthy goals of humankind. What’s more, their suggestions for our present social orders are transformational. The ‘but’ alludes to the requirement for human rights developments to advance and be significant to the advancing drivers of human rights maltreatment in our reality. One I’d like to consider here is the rising imbalance in our social orders.

It is difficult to respond to the subject of whether human rights are as yet a successful method to realize social change, since it requires undertaking a progressively broad and far reaching examination of their job in the public arena. In any case, without slipping by into a reductionist view, we can say that they are, in themselves, a pointer of social change, which will be talked about in greater detail all through this article.

As a matter of first importance, recollect that human rights, other than being a legitimate class, must be comprehended as a social development that has been created and shown from various perspectives all through human history – in spite of the fact that, it wasn’t until the second 50% of the last decade that they were perceived as a worldview of present day popular government. Through this perspective, the incredible test at this time in history is making these rights a reality for everybody.


Scholars like D. Gallan (2006) have long recognized that in especially of developed countries, there has a been long-established tradition of using rights legislation as a tool of social advancement. In the U.S. and Canada for example NGOs have been constantly using strategic human rights litigation, and even though the practice had been lukewarm here in the U.K. things have really picked up steam with the introduction of the Human Rights Act in 1998[4]. Even though it can be said that the Human Rights Act was only the result of already mounting pressures by way of examples in the international community, it really has brought the issue of violation of human rights in developed countries in the limelight.

However, there is some skepticism still about the efficacy of rights to actually bring about social justice, social change or even challenge the status quo hegemony that has become permanently entrenched in society. In other words, it is argued that legal rights are an ineffective way to bring about social transformation. Reasons for this are that the enforcement of rights legally is a costly, cumbersome, ineffective and ultimately does not justify the efforts undertaken especially because most of the time the results are lukewarm[5].

However, it is also to be acknowledged that even though there is a lot of literature about the ineffective nature of legal rights, there is an equally great number of articles about their success. This is ultimately because the effectiveness of rights depends upon their enforceability which changes constantly according to the political climate[6].

Scholars like Thompson take a pragmatic approach in saying that while rights legislations may not expose the true identities of the power or the depth of their power, they do practically help in curbing that power or reduce instances of power misuse to varying degrees. Thus, K Makin (2007[7]) states, legal rights are effective tools for advancement of social change gradually, but they cannot be a panacea for all evils.


Litigation is a considerably new strategy in the foray of socio legal discussion. Traditionally the debate on the sociological aspect of law was restricted to looking at it from the lens of normatively defined structures like contract theory, conflict, class disputes, wealth gap between the rich and the poor, etc. This did not offer any tangible solutions which is nowadays the major focus of discussions in the strategy of looking forward to apply rights litigation to initiate social transformation. As R. Cotterrell (1992) notes by this is evident by the fact that the modern era of legislation has started focusing on more sophisticated areas like workplace equality, racial equality and sexual harassment laws[8]. As C. Harvey (2005) notes, the UK. Human Rights Act is itself a stellar example of this, in what he calls bringing forth a social revolution and one of the most important developments of the British Legislation in continuing its tradition from the common-law era[9].

It is important to note that rights legislation need not be only advanced by introduction of new legislations. Case in point is the constitution of the United States itself. Even though, the US constitution was first introduced in the 18th Century, concentrated efforts to use the constitution to advance the rights of socially disadvantageous groups did not occur until the later part of the 20th Century when the Supreme Court adopted a tradition of judicial activism by passing some landmark judgements on issues of slavery, racial discrimination and rights of abortion. Similarly, in the UK, as P. Sharma (1998) notes, the equality charter of the UK Human Rights Act only arrived over 3 years after the Act was introduced and was celebrated by minority and ethnic racial groups as a birthing of a new dawn[10]. This is ironic because no one at that time had a clear idea on how this new charter was to be enforced, however mere fact that the Charter existed was cause for celebration itself as it signified that the legislature was concerned about the importance of rights and belief in it power. As an example of NGOs not waiting for appropriate legislation but taking active steps to proactively advance the cause of rights on the basis of already established legislations (as we have discussed in this paper previously above), FL Morton (2002)[11] notes that, even before the charter on equality came about in the Human Rights Act, many NGOs such as the ‘Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund’ (LEAF) had already started laying out litigation strategies to challenge the constitutionality of existing legislations and they have been doing that ever since.


As Child Poverty Action Group (2003) observes even in western liberal societies, there is much divide between the rich and poor and the fringe and marginalized sections like refugees and immigrants live in truly squalid conditions in first world countries like the UK. Other such examples of Aborigines communities in Australia and ethnic Canadians living in poverty[12]. These two examples are by no means isolated cases but they represent the general state of inequalities worldwide. That is why in liberal democratic societies rights legislation is given so much important as they are much required tools for social change. Legal battles serve to provide legitimacy and recognition to social struggles, brings issues of equality and human rights on the forefront of the political debate and serves to empower litigants and the general public.

Law emanates a presumption of fairness and equal objective applications to both rich and poor – this is how it ideally should be, but as M. Lazarus et. al. (1994) observes, law is not immune to social pressures and this pragmatically the judges themselves being human sometimes may be forced to lean towards the rich and powerful in derogation of the have-nots in society. This will remain a limitation of the legal system. This line of thinking is subscribed by theorists who often look at the formation of society through the prism of class struggles and inequality paradigms. They view the forum of litigation as an unequal contest where the odds are stacked heavily in favour of the rich and power.

They argue that the system of litigation is itself unfair as it leaves vulnerable poor people who do not have adequate means to effectively engage in litigation. Litigation is a sham – a trap system developed by the rich and powerful to keep the poor engaged in an appearance of a formal victory in a pointless pursuit with very little substantive value. In fact, Mandel (1994) extends this allegation especially over the constitutional protections in rights, saying that the idealistic promises it expresses is ultimately unenforceable in reality.

Taking a more practical grey path instead of black and white it is important to remember the even though all the aims of social change that the language of the law assuages cannot be achieved, some amount of social injustice mitigation is definitely achieved by rights legislation and litigation.


When people are publicly made awareness about right legal rights in places such as awareness camps and legal exhibitions, law turns into a field where social equity issues are challenged. This procedure has been differently, and here and there disparagingly, alluded to as the authorization or judicialisation of legislative issues in light of the fact that wide-running social issues are sifted through the perspective of law. Faultfinders contend this has the impact of atomising gigantic social issues into limited legitimate issues, which are then questioned in a field unequipped for getting a handle on the nature and intricacy of the issues, and of tending to them.

Be that as it may, law does make a difference. The conflict is, be that as it may, does it make a difference in imperative ways? Much legitimate grant has investigated inquiries of legal effect, ‘hole’ contemplates, and the ideological predispositions of law, and inferred that law does not make a difference much in the battle for social advancement or that it is important contrastingly and not for the reasons accepted by proponents.

Be that as it may, as indicated by Garth and Sarat (1998), the law is diffused all over the place and effects upon practically all features of the social world, frequently in limitless ways. While the instrumentalist school may limit or even reject the job of law in dynamic social changes, it is tricky, in this period of globalization and in perspective on this proceeding with discussion, to not accept its inescapability.

As indicated by Garth and Sarat, the present discussion about law and society can be for the most part subsumed, despite significant cover, under the accompanying two explanatory systems: instrumental and constitutive . The previous is grounded in positivism and brings a top-down or court-focused way to deal with the investigation of law and its effect, and is contemptuous of its capacity to change existing social relations of control and subjection. The constitutive methodology places law at the focal point of examination, and yet de-focuses formal law by adopting a base up strategy. This methodology contends for the significance of considering law in the entirety of its varieties since law works in numerous fields outside the formal landscape. Law is persistently deciphered and reinterpreted, and in the hands of rebellious native’s law can be a wellspring of turmoil and populist re-ordering.

Instrumentalist methodology – The instrumentalist system tries to comprehend the immediate impacts or effect of law by inspecting what is most unmistakable, for instance, the result of prosecution, concentrating all the more by and large on the courts and real choices which are reminiscent of social advancement. As such, a circumstances and logical results approach inquiring as to whether a choice – for the most part one viewed as a milestone – brought about social changes.

One of the focal contentions of this school is that eventually law, even law that should improve social ills, is an instrument of control that serves ground-breaking interests and holds subordinates under control. At the end of the day, law sustains the norm and legitimizes as opposed to difficulties the current shameful acts, and in this way, can’t be utilized by the frail to propel social causes. The idea of authority is acquainted with clarify why it is that the majority assent and assume a clearly eager job in their very own enslavement. it is dangerous to look for circumstances and logical results clarifications in the social world, and in this is one of the focal downsides with instrumentalism. It is hard to separate law as the variable being the reason for noticeable social changes. The social world is in a constant condition of motion, and social changes happen over extended timeframes. They are steady in nature and diffused all through society, making it dangerous to attribute the watched or estimated changes to a specific reason.

Constitutive Methodology – While instrumentalists consider law to be a free factor whose sway, for instance, on an officially comprised social world can be estimated, the constitutive methodology sees law from a more extensive point of view, as all the more an inescapable and diffused impact, which does not exist autonomously of society. As opposed to asking, for instance, about the effect of certain court choices, the constitutive methodology looks at the job of law in realizing social change.

The constitutive methodology isn’t so much a particular investigative system as it is a comprehensively considered base up, hermeneutic or interpretive way to deal with the investigation of law, its key reason being that law is a constitutive component of society. This denotes a perceivable move in the hypothetical landscape to a more extensive perspective on the law, and of rights. Recognizably the move has been far from looking at rights in the formal lawful procedures to its ‘decentred’ and ‘unexpected’ nature, in acknowledgment that the intensity of rights does not generally live in the courts, or in the courts’ understanding, yet somewhere else. It is vital, in any case, to take note of that the intensity of rights can’t be expected. It isn’t programmed and is reliant upon the conditions and way in which they are saddled by activists.[21] According to McCann (1994), to see how influences society law it is essential to focus on the bunch of exercises or ’roundabout law’ which happen outside the limits of the customary, a territory of request disregarded by positivists. Law is substantially more than court choices, lawyers, rules, and lawful standards[22].


Some of the most cited oppositions to litigation are: case ties up significant assets; fights in court take excessively long; case produces empty triumphs; and other (and apparently progressively successful) alternatives for social advancement are overlooked or given far less consideration[23].

The focal issue with prosecution is one that is shared by the two parties to a debate: suit can be a bet, and the result, while as a rule unsurprising, is never guaranteed. For instance, even the best contended cases can be frustrated by an unwelcoming legal executive, and this applies to the two gatherings. While the dangers are not shared similarly, and the distraught stay off guard, the result is something that neither one of the parties can take as guaranteed. Despite the way that the chances support governments, the misfortunes endured have not been irrelevant. In any case, the issue with a success lose polarity is the condition that triumphant is everything; as it were, case needs to prevail for there to be gains by social developments. This is extremely rushed a determination in light of the fact that notwithstanding when a case is lost it doesn’t really pursue that gains –, for example, exposure for the reason, other (simultaneous) settlements, rights awareness, or strengthening – have not happened[24].

At the point when social developments take part in suit it is legal approach making which is looked for. Frequently it is on the grounds that the political entryway is out of reach or has been shut. Numerous commentators, in any case, respect legal strategy making or invasions into territories of social approach as utter horror to majority rules system and contend that such issues should best be left to chosen bodies, which are apparently progressively responsible. It is contended that judges disregard the standards of majority rule government since they are selected and not responsible to the general public. This analysis does not mull over the cover and troubles in once in a while isolating strategy issues from an exacting elucidation of the letter of the law. It is one thing for the legal executive to look for direction from social approach yet very another when they effectively take part in making arrangement, territories viewed as consecrated to the chosen; judges promptly recognize the previous yet once in a while the latter.


A corresponding perspective on rights litigation holds that social strategy issues can be made substantially more acceptable whenever encircled as being for a more noteworthy benefit, to the greatest advantage of society. The presumption is that wide open help will lessen resistance. Maybe the best of every single social development, as far as continued open help and preparation, has been the ecological development in the US, which prevailing with regards to conveying to the cutting edge of environmental protection. Despite Rosenberg’s expository system, it is additionally one of only a handful couple of territories in which both positivist and interpretive structures lead to the end that rights essentially modified the scene looks at how the ecological development, which had since quite a while ago existed as a periphery player, changed itself amid the 70s and turned into a critical player in American legislative issues. What offered stimulus to the development were a progression of ecological disasters and subsequent political lobbying.

While the development’s goal of increasing legal protection for the environment fizzled, the underlying triumphs in court filled in as a springboard for expanded legitimate action as the development concentrated fundamentally on an administrative motivation. Under strain the US Congress reacted and a plenty of laws and rules were made. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was additionally made to manage requirement of these new laws. The development did not disregard different scenes and worked tenaciously to illuminate general society and collect their help and, all the while, the development increased both administrative and mechanical partners.

While, amid the Reagan Administration, the environment assumed a lower priority in relation to monetary issues, the development swung to the laws it had made to keep up what had just been accomplished and to keep a focus on the issue. The development additionally documented various claims against enterprises, bringing about punishments, and against the EPA, where it was felt that the office was in effect not exactly tenacious or not proactive in satisfying its order. The development changed the legitimate scene and, as indicated by Coglianese, the planet and its occupants are the better for it. Apparently, the aftereffects of such endeavors have brought about cleaner air, cleaner water, and safeguarding of other normal resources.

Coglianese refers to a few reports and information bearing witness to quantifiable decreases in lethal waste and contamination yet recognizes that opposite ends are likewise conceivable utilizing similar information. It stays open to contend that the environment keeps on experiencing debasement and the advances or changes accomplished have missed the mark regarding what is vital. At the end of the day, the development’s strategic spotlight on administering assurance and litigation conceivably diverted it from considering the potential in, or the quest for, different strategies. This is the position that introduces in his examination about the incapability of litigation.

In any case, some proportion of progress must be credited to the development’s procedure for changing the way in which the environment is currently respected by industry, government, and general society. It is not necessarily the case that the development can lay on its past success or be happy with its victories – environmental issues keep on being very challenged and much work remains – however this contextual analysis offers important exercises to social reformers on how an in the past periphery development had the capacity to reframe issues, legitimately and something else, so they turned into everybody’s worry. One of the potential outcomes this proposes for activists is the way to change minority issues into larger part issues with the goal that advancement of minority issues isn’t just observed as not opposite, yet as useful to the interests of the dominant parties.


The key organization of rights presents potential outcomes and traps for social developments. Rights have reverberation, power, and potential but are not a panacea for the numerous social issues that are a natural piece of present day social orders. Plainly numerous NGOs have confidence in the potential and intensity of rights – that a certification of rights must mean something, and when there are real or seen weaknesses or ruptures, governments must be considered responsible.

This conviction isn’t without substance. NGO support bunches draw in with rights in an intentional, key, and composed way to realize social changes. NGOs are not innocent and have something other than an instinctive comprehension of law. For the situation thinks about analyzed what emerges is the dimension of complexity exhibited by non-legitimate performers, the normal individuals who are continually organizing and rebuilding their associations with law, resolved to have their vision of their rights figured it out. One of the key qualities of rights is that they can be conveyed to challenge the predominant hegemony.

To apply a similarity predictable with instrumentalism, it would be as though a partner of the amazing is betrayed them, connecting with them utilizing their own language and terms to bring up treacheries, making the wrongs hard to keep away from or overlook. What is likewise clear is that law and society (counting social developments in that society) interface in a more powerful and bi-directional design than has been commonly perceived by those looking for direct circumstances and logical results relationship. The relationship is mind boggling, continually changing, but it isn’t intrinsically exploitative in light of the fact that law serves numerous capacities. Law is administrative but additionally facilitative.