Politics, Digital Technology, and Human Rights

In recent years, the study of human rights through the discipline of politics has generated (at least) three strands of inquiry:  

  • Through its connection with international law – scholars seek to explain a state’s domestic laws, and domestic and foreign policy and action on human rights issues;  
  • Through a connection with psychology – scholars aim to understand and unravel individual attitudes and behaviour in relation to human rights;  
  • Through a connection with sociology – scholars aim to understand and explain the existence and dynamics of societal structures and their impacts on the lived experience and enjoyment of human rights. 

In all these discussions, the state is assumed to be central to the explanations or to the impact its laws, policies, and actions have on individuals and society. However, the rapid growth of the power of a range of private corporate actors since the second half of the twentieth century has challenged this assumption. The spread of digital technology and its implications for the determination of legal and political jurisdictions has further complicated the assumption of state primacy in the international and domestic arenas.  

Politics, as a discipline, must contend with these challenges in order to reflect, examine, understand the issues related to and impacts of digital technology on human lives and human rights.

  • What is the role of the state, as a sovereign entity, in the protection of the rights of its citizens and residents against corporate action that transcends legal and political boundaries?
  • How do individuals comprehend the impact of digital technology on their lives and the enjoyment of their rights?
  • To what extent and in what ways have societal structures morphed or adapted to digital technology and in what ways has this impacted the enjoyment of human rights?
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