Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2012

Publication Citation

19 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 467 (2012)


This Comment interprets and reflects on the key features of David Engel's argument about the importance of balancing vertical models of rights diffusion with horizontal ethnographic studies of how rights consciousness develops out of practical experience in everyday social contexts. The primary focus is on endorsing the general argument and amplifying some understated or undeveloped dimensions of Engel's position. In particular, this reflection makes the case for: 1) expanding the range of subjects and contexts subjected to horizontal study, including especially greater attention to "haves" and elite actors; 2) studying subjects expected to have high rights consciousness as well as those likely to demonstrate low rights consciousness so as to develop more comparative theorizing; 3) adding more refined sociological analysis of context and power to the ethnographic study of subject consciousness, again to advance comparative theorizing about factors that encourage or discourage rights consciousness; and 4) to sharpen attention to variations in the substantive content as well as relative salience of rights consciousness among subjects, which in turn may disrupt assumptions about the assumed automatic identification of rights discourses with neoliberal hegemony. Many examples from sociolegal scholarship are cited to illustrate and support the various analytical points.