Dec 10, 2015
On 10 December of all days, International Human Rights Day, we thought it was hugely significant to launch our new human rights podcast resource. We call it The Rights Track and it provides sound evidence on human rights.
The project is gratefully funded by the Nuffield Foundation and features a collection of podcasts from leading scholars around the world engaged in systematic human rights research.
The podcasts are hosted by me, Todd Landman and are produced by former BBC journalist and founder of Research Podcasts, Christine Garrington.
This resource has been long in the making, and is now ready to be shared to the world. For this launch, we thought it might be good to provide some context and background to why we think this is a good idea.
Promoting and protecting human rights
In February 2016, I will have a new article appearing in the journal Human Rights Quarterly entitled Rigorous Morality: Norms, Values and the Comparative Politics of Human Rights. In it I argue that there is a strong role for empirical analysis that addresses fundamental normative questions. For us, the promotion and protection of human rights is one such area of normative focus that can and should be subjected to empirical analysis.
Since the 1980s, social scientists have developed a variety of theories, methods, and measures for comparing, assessing, and explaining the variation in human rights performance across many countries and over time.
Methods of analysis have included quantitative approaches based on the careful assembly of different kinds of human rights and human rights-related data, including data on events and violations, scales on human rights conditions, survey data on perceptions and experiences of human rights, and socio-economic and administrative statistics relating to human rights concerns. These approaches focus on the differences (or variation) in numbers as they relate to human rights and build models to explain that variation, which are then tested using advanced statistical techniques.
There have also been qualitative approaches, such as in-depth interviewing, participant observation, action research, ethnography, and narrative analysis, where the focus is on the difference ‘in kind’ of human rights experiences, interpretations, stories, impressions, and feelings among those who have suffered violations themselves or have had friends and families who have had similar experiences.
While quantitative approaches to human rights problems are primarily focussed on explanation of variation, qualitative approaches are primarily focused on understanding of human rights situations and experiences.
In either case, many scholars of human rights seek to use evidence about human rights to make strong inferences that can, and in many cases are, used for human rights advocacy.
Advancing human rights
Over the course of my research career in human rights, I have taught, researched, and applied social scientific methods of analysis to and for a wide range of human rights scholars and practitioners. In discussing this work we have been struck by the incredible passion across so many scholars for the subject and the amazing advances that have been made in the collection, analysis, and use of human rights evidence.
The human rights movement can be traced to the abolitionist movement in the 19th Century and certainly gathered pace in the inter-war years and in the run up to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, there has been a proliferation of international human rights law that has expanded both in depth (an increasing articulation and delineation of rights) and breadth (an increasing number of states that have ratified the international treaties).
This expansion in law and general global awareness about human rights is the fruit of much hard work from human rights advocates, practitioners, scholars, lawyers, diplomats, and national leaders who have come together in a wide range of public meetings at the local, national, and international level.
Advocacy work in human rights is often highly contested, fraught with difficulty, denial and setback, but has made tremendous advances over the course of the 20th Century. Human rights scholarship in general and social scientific analysis in particular has also made tremendous advances in the late 20th and early 21st century. There are undergraduate, postgraduate taught, and postgraduate research programmes dedicated to human rights, and scholars from these programmes go onto to do amazing things all over the world for the advance of human rights.
Connecting with wider audiences
Much of this work is disseminated through quite traditional means: classrooms, seminar sessions, academic conferences, peer reviewed journal articles, research monographs, policy papers, and advocacy documents. All of these are excellent vehicles for communicating human rights research and human rights findings; however, we feel that they nevertheless remain quite limited and often do not connect with wider audiences.
So we see The Rights Track as filling a real gap in the field of human rights research. The podcast format allows you the listener to engage with human rights research differently. You hear the scholar in his or her words. You learn about why they study what the study; how they studied what they studied; what they found out from their research and why that matters for human rights.
We have a wonderful community of scholars that we are going to share with you over the coming twelve months. They are a diverse group with a variety of different motivations for studying human rights. They have singled out a wide range of different questions that their research seeks to address and have used different research methods.
Above all,our Rights Track guests are curious and passionate about the state of human rights in the world. You will hear in their own words what has motivated them, how they have studied the world, what they have learned and why what they have learned is important for you to hear.
So, on this International Human Rights Day, we welcome you to The Rights Track. May all your evidence about human rights be sound!