Rhetoric of Rights

This paper focuses on the rhetoric dimension of framing an issue as a ‘new’ human right. As a contribution to a communications theory of rights it looks into the role rhetoric plays in the triangulation of concepts, language and society, taking as a theoretical framework the topical reconstruction of legal discourse after Viehweg and Bornscheuer, especially. Building on a larger project of research into the phenomenon of ‘new’ human rights the paper identifies five intersecting functions of arguing a ‘human right to…’: an appellative function that makes special use of the rhetorical element of pathos; a contesting function closely connected with challenging existing norms by reference to constitutional vocabulary; a connecting function by using human rights as a ‘common language of humanity’; a triggering function related to institutions and procedures; a jurisgenerative function by creating a discursive hub that can evolve into a topos of its own.