Differentiated Decoupling and Human Rights

Nitza Berkovitch, Neve Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


One of the major issues attracting the attention of scholars studying global norm regimes, especially the human rights regime, is their impact on domestic settings. Borrowing from organizational studies, some of these scholars have used the term decoupling to conceptualize the widespread phenomenon of states that sign conventions but do not implement these conventions' norms. In this article, we introduce the concept of differentiated decoupling, arguing that the implementation of human rights norms needs to be rethought and reoperationalized. We present a case study - the right to vote in the United States - to illustrate our argument that it is vital to disaggregate the decoupling processes and examine the different social groups within the state rather than limit scrutiny to the state level. We further contend that in order to explain differentiated decoupling, perspectives developed and used by sociologists who study inequality need to be adopted. In this way, scholars can capture the unequal distribution of human rights in domestic settings and begin to untangle the forces leading to differentiated decoupling. An analysis of differentiated decoupling helps reveal that "more human rights" sometimes means more human rights to one group and less to another, suggesting that implementation of human rights norms may even deepen stratification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-512
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • decoupling
  • human rights
  • implementation
  • sociology of inequality
  • the right to vote

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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