Social Rights Constitutionalism: Negotiating the Tension between the Universal and the Particular

Daniel M. Brinks, Varun Gauri, Kyle Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The increasing importance of social rights language in constitutional texts and in the politics of social provision and human security has triggered a voluminous academic literature. Despite its global origins, we argue, social rights language goes through a process of vernacularization, through which it transforms and is transformed by local politics. The process begins when particular rights are included in constitutional texts and continues when local groups take hold of that language to express their particular aspirations. The struggle to realize social rights is a political one, grounded in and pursued through local structures of demand. In the course of that struggle, rights acquire local particularities. At the same time, the global origins and universal language of rights can open possibilities for subordinate groups to challenge the status quo. Whether or not social rights constitutionalism in the end improves the situation for these groups or simply reinforces the status quo depends on the outcome of this vernacularization process, rather than on any a priori features of social rights language or social constitutionalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-308
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Nov 3 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


  • Constitutional rights
  • Constitutionalism
  • Economic rights
  • Enforcement
  • Human rights
  • Social rights
  • Vernacularization


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