This paper seeks to unravel some of the tangled threads of contemporary rights talk. For some, the grounding of rights-based approaches in human rights legislation makes them distinctively different to others, lending the promise of re-politicising areas of development work - particularly, perhaps, efforts to enhance participation in development, that have become domesticated as they have been 'mainstreamed' by powerful institutions like the World Bank. Others complain that like other fashions, the label 'rights-based approach' has become the latest designer item to be seen to be wearing, and has been used to dress up the same old development. We pose a series of questions about why rights have come to be of interest to international development actors, and explore the implications of different versions and emphases, looking at what their strengths and shortcomings may come to mean for the politics and practice of development.
Third World Quarterly (2004) 25 (8) 1415-1437