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  • Series: Handbooks of Research Methods in Law series x
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Edward Anderson

Despite the apparent skepticism, economists and human rights scholars share much in common. Many indicators used by development economists to measure human development have been used as proxies for the realization of human rights. Development economists and human rights scholars have also been working together to assess whether governments are doing as much as they can to realize human rights, given available resources. Finally, economists and (increasingly) human rights scholars both make substantial use of multiple regression analysis to investigate relationships of interest, and face similar methodological challenges in implementing this approach. All these areas have potential for fruitful collaboration.

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Steven L.B. Jensen and Roland Burke

Human rights has been described as a paradigmatic site for writing transnational history. While there is much promise in the discipline, history is not neutral territory for human rights researchers to navigate. With greater awareness of, and responsiveness to, the methodological challenges attendant to human rights history, historical inquiry can make a more substantial contribution to the field. This chapter identifies some blind spots that have influenced human rights research, and seeks to address questions about working with historical sources. It also charts out methodological approaches that can make historical research a more valuable, critical-reflective companion to understanding the evolution of human rights past and present.

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Sally Engle Merry

Human rights documentation frequently relies on reports of individual cases and situations. Although there is a tendency to dismiss such narratives as ‘anecdotal’ and unreliable, it is essential to examine local-level ideas, experiences and practices to assess the effects of human rights. This chapter discusses ways of paying attention to the use of human rights language, to practices of activism and network creation among advocates working on different issues, and to the conditions under which individuals adopt a sense of self that includes the entitlements and rights offered in the human rights system which provide such qualitative knowledge of human rights practice.

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Malcolm Langford

Human rights are a natural subject for interdisciplinary and multimethod research but it is not clear whether the emerging scholarship fully lives up to its demands. This chapter asks: how are pluralistic approaches best advanced in research? How can we use different disciplines in framing research questions and choosing methods? And, what do we mean by a multimethod approach? In answering these questions, this chapter discusses different streams of interdisciplinary human rights research, identifies cross-cutting faultlines, and offers a multimethod framework that includes methods from the social sciences, humanities (including law and philosophy) and natural sciences.

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George Ulrich

Research in the area of human rights typically involves exposed individuals and communities and concerns issues that in one way or another are sensitive and charged. The aim of the chapter is to chart the ethical implications of human rights research. To this end, the author introduces a distinction between five primary levels of ethical consideration, which are accentuated to different degrees in ethical guidelines and codes of conduct applicable to research in the human, social and legal sciences. These have to do with (a) prevention of harm, (b) recognition and respect, (c) contribution to a greater good, (d) negotiation of terms of collaboration and conflicts of interest, and (e) compliance with scientific and professional standards. At each level, a range of characteristic dilemmas and challenges are presented as illustrative of the ethical considerations that should be taken into account when planning and conducting human rights research. In conclusion, the author presents an overview of ‘ethics in the research cycle’ and discusses means of strengthening ethical accountability within the community of human rights researchers.

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Bård A. Andreassen

Comparison is often used in human rights analysis, monitoring and advocacy. This chapter discusses purposes and key features of comparative human rights analysis based on recent research. It argues that comparison is important for exploring contextual and underlying conditions for human rights violations or protection. The chapter discusses what comparison in human rights is, why it is a fruitful research strategy and how it may conducted by comparing few or many cases. The chapter also addresses one-case studies as a form of comparative approach, often applied in human rights studies. One-case studies offer important opportunities for testing hypothesizes and enable conceptual and theoretical development.

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Hans-Otto Sano and Tomas Max Martin

This chapter argues that human rights studies lack insights on the endogenous organizational dynamics and their impact on human rights, i.e. on ‘drivers’ and ‘spoilers’ for human rights change induced by forces inside state (and interstate) organizations. This problem is compounded by the fact that human rights studies rarely pay much attention to organizational and institutional theory. The chapter addresses this methodical deficit on duty-bearers’ agency. The main questions addressed are: what methods can be used in gaining insights on how these duty-bearers strategize, implement and decide on human rights? In what way are and can these methodological choices be guided by theoretical angles that take internal dynamics more adequately into account?

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Margaret Satterthwaite and Daniel Kacinski

Applied human rights researchers have turned to quantitative methods in recent years to ‘move beyond anecdote’ and answer questions about the scope, intensity, characteristics, responsibility for and causes of human rights violations. Drawing on widely varying data, a range of methods with different capabilities have been employed for a spectrum of purposes. These methods not only vary in their approach and capacity, but they also relate to international human rights law in different ways. This chapter provides an overview of how quantitative methods are being used by researchers engaged in real-world human rights work. The methods can be split into two general categories: first, techniques focused on the collection of data, and second, methods that can be applied to transform and analyze that data. Both categories of tools provide unique promise for human rights research, but also carry perils that practitioners must be aware of. These tools, when applied in the proper settings and for appropriate uses, can give access to information that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and can identify patterns or practices that might otherwise be missed. Practitioners must be wary, however, of perils in application and fit: while applied human rights questions are similar in many ways to queries in social science, they differ in their ethical dimensions and immediacy.

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Simon Walker

The measurement of human rights has grown steadily over recent decades and is today an important element of human rights work. Measurement has been important for diverse reasons from reporting to treaty bodies to informing decisions on whether human rights should condition trade preferences. In spite of the many opportunities offered by measurement, it also faces challenges. For quantitative measurement, a significant challenge is ensuring that measurement is reliable and valid. The chapter sets out different approaches to measuring human rights, identifies the main challenges facing these approaches and makes some propositions to improve measurement initiatives. The chapter concludes by emphasizing the importance of sound methodology, the professionalization of measurement through national coordination bodies and cross-disciplinary dialogue as a means of ensuring greater reliability and validity of human rights measurement

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Kirsteen Shields

Increased international institutional activity around an international right to adequate food comes with two major caveats: subjectivity of measurement and justiciability. This chapters deals with the first of these in exploring the impact of economic analysis of food security on the definition, and subsequently monitoring and measurement, of the right to food.