March 12, 2016
This article argues that the history of sociological theory has been shadowed by the attempt to account for the social status of rights: the analysis of rights revolutions is in fact a question of deeply formative significance for sociological inquiry. Both in classical and contemporary literature, however, the endeavour to explain rights sociologically has not been fully successful. Consequently, an attempt is made here to adjust the conventional paradigm for observing rights and to explain the underlying social dimensions of rights. To this end, this article aims to analyze rights, neither as institutions imposed on political power nor as expressions of primary human emphases or liberties, but as constructs that allow modern societies to articulate the reserves of power on which they rely. The construction of rights is examined as an element in the positivization of modern political power, and the role of rights in producing power is approached through a functional reconstruction of the historical formation of institutions conventionally utilizing political power in modern society. The article concludes by offering a critique of standard assumptions about rights.