A New Concept of Liberty. Economic and Social Human Rights in 20th Century International Politics

Name of applicant

Steven L. B. Jensen


The Danish Institute for Human Rights


DKK 743,178



Type of grant

Monograph Fellowships


With my monograph, I aim to write a transnational history of social and economic rights that will re-interpret their significance for 20th century history, namely as critical international standards to advance freedom, democracy, the rule of law and societal cohesion in a global context. The book recovers a longer history that shows how broader notions of freedom and justice used to shape human rights politics and how notions of "the social" informed key aspects of 20th century internationalism.


Taking social and economic rights seriously means taking seriously international diplomacy and public policymaking in vital fields such as health, education, employment, social protection and international development. It also means placing larger questions of justice, equality, non-discrimination, dignity and freedom at the center of writing 20th century political history. The cross-disciplinary field of human rights research - covering law, political science, sociology, philosophy, anthropology and development studies - has failed to adequately capture the nature and role social and economic human rights had in 20th century international politics and this weakens our ability to grabble with key aspects of global politics in the 20th century.


Working with transnational history, my research approach is multi-archival and multi-national tracking issues in the global domain. I have already conducted research in United Nations archives as well as several national archives in six countries (USA, UK, France, Switzerland, Jamaica and Denmark). My monograph project is therefore ready to enter the writing stage immediately with only limited additional archival research planned in Geneva and at Harvard University archives. I will work across the fields of history, law, development and global health - fields that I am well familiar with both from academic and professional work having previously worked for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations and broadly with human rights in a variety of international contexts.

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