World influences on human rights language in constitutions: A cross-national study

Colin J. Beck, Gili S. Drori, John W. Meyer

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A recent movement has extended previous emphases on the rights of national citizens by asserting the global human rights of all persons. This article describes the extent to which this change is reflected in the language of national constitutions around the world. Human rights language - formerly absent from almost all constitutions - now appears in most of them. Rather than characterizing developed or democratic states, human rights language is, first, especially common in countries most susceptible to global influences. Second, human rights language is driven by the extent of the international human rights regime at the time of a constitution's writing. Third, human rights language tends to appear in newer constitutions and in the constitutions of emergent and reorganized states. National constitutions are imprinted with global social conditions, which now stress the discourse of human rights.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)483-501
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work on this article was funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation (200600003) to Francisco Ramirez and John Meyer, and by assistance from Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Pomona College. Several undergraduate research assistants at Stanford University and Pomona College provided exceptional assistance: Chelsea Barabas, Andrew Deeringer, Caitlin Maloney, Thomas Meyer, and Ariana Poursartip. The article benefited from the related studies of, and comments by, members of Stanford’s Comparative Workshop and Uppsala University’s Center for Russian and Euroasian Studies and Department of Government.


  • Constitutions
  • globalization
  • human rights
  • political sociology


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