Christopher Roberts

  • Associate Professor of Law
  • Joseph & Edith Wargo Research Scholar
  • Vance Opperman Research Scholar
450 Mondale Hall


  • University of California, Los Angeles, B.A.
  • University of Southern California Gould School of Law, J.D.
  • University of Michigan, Ph.D.


  • Administrative Law
  • Citizenship
  • Human Rights Law
  • International Human Rights
  • International Law
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Professor Christopher N.J. Roberts is an associate professor of law and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Sociology. He brings an interdisciplinary law, sociology, and public policy perspective to human rights, international law, and legal history.

His recent book, The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press), was awarded the 2015 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Human Rights Section. The book focuses on the substantial and often-overlooked opposition against the formation of the International Bill of Human Rights during the 1940s and 1950s. Because this opposition was absorbed into the framework of the emerging concept, he argues that for more than 60 years human rights have been encumbered by “internal contradictions” that continue to constrain implementation.

Roberts is currently working on his second book, which takes the unusual approach of searching for the historical origins of an absence. Although every legally enforceable right relies upon a corresponding legal duty, the book shows that duties have become an afterthought in contemporary rights theory and practice. This project locates the crucial historical moments when duties were separated from the modern idea of rights and explores the impact of this now-accepted division.

Roberts holds a JD from the University of Southern California and a PhD in Public Policy and Sociology from the University of Michigan, where he received the Distinguished Dissertation Award. He was a visiting scholar in the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall, in 2008-10.

Professor Roberts’ research interests include human rights, citizenship, tort law, international law, legal history, legal and social theory, law and society, and the process of legal concept formation.

Advanced Torts

Rights in Conflict: Citizenship and Human Rights


Special Topics in Administrative Law


The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Journal Articles

Grasping at Origins: Shifting the Conversation in the Historical Study of Human Rights, 17 Chicago Journal of International Law 573 (2017)
Human Rights and Sociological Duties, 32 Sociological Forum 213 (2017)
Human Rights Lost: The (Re)making of an American Story, 26 Minnesota Journal of International Law 1 (2017)
Standing Our Legal Ground: Reclaiming the Duties within Second Amendment Rights Cases, 47 Arizona State Law Journal 235 (2015)
Dynamics of Healthcare Reform: Bitter Pills Old and New, 45 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 1341 (2012)
Toward a New Sociology of Rights: A Genealogy of "Buried Bodies" of Citizenship and Human Rights, 4 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 385-425 (2008)
Margaret R. Somers

Book Chapters

The Struggle for an American Way, in Menschenrechte und ihre Kritiker: Ideologien, Argumente, Wirkungen (Dieter Gosewinkel, Annette Weinke, eds., Wallstein Verlag, 2019)
Sociology of Law, in Institutions Unbound: Social Worlds and Human Rights 97-106 (David L. Brunsma, Keri E. Iyall Smith & Brian K. Gran, eds., Routledge, 2016)
Toward a New Sociology of Rights: A Genealogy of "Buried Bodies" of Citizenship and Human Rights, in Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Action 72-78 (Burns H. Weston & Anna Grear, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)
Margaret R. Somers
The Sociology of Law, in The Handbook of Sociology and Human Rights 204-212 (David L. Brunsma, Keri E. Iyall Smith & Brian K. Gran, eds., Paradigm Publishers, 2013)

Book Reviews

The Timeless Struggle to Find a Voice Among Others, 22 Contexts 72 (2023) (reviewing Virgil, The Aeneid (David West, translation and introduction, Penguin Books, 2003), Stephen Meili, The Constitutionalization of Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2022) & Lisa Hajjar, The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight Against Torture (University of California Press, 2022))
Book Review, 13 Perspectives on Politics 917 (2015) (reviewing Kratochwil Friedrich, The Status of Law in World Society: Mediations on the Role and Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press, 2014))

Other Publications

What's Left of A Bright Future?, 28 Minnesota Journal of International Law 309 (2019) (foreword)
Commentary on William H. Fitzpatrick's Editorials on Human Rights (1949), in Quellen zur Geschichte der Menschenrechte (Arbeitskreis Menschenrechte im 20. Jahrhundert, June 2017)