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  • Series: Handbooks of Research Methods in Law series x
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Anna-Luise Chané and Arjun Sharma

This chapter introduces some of the key features of social network analysis along with the opportunities and challenges in applying them to human rights research. Social network analysis is a set of tools and methods that aims to examine the relational dynamics between actors. Using a case study from the UN Human Rights Council, we illustrate how social network analysis enables human rights researchers to extend their analytical toolkit by combining the study of structural relations with traditional statistical and qualitative methods.

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Dimitrina Petrova

This chapter proposes a classification of methods used in researching discrimination and discusses the relevance, advantages and limitations of each of the major methods. The classification is based on the subject of the research – whether it is research of individual discrimination cases, patterns, perceptions, legal or policy frameworks, jurisprudence, practice, etc. A critique of the methodological challenges in respect to each group of methods is followed by a reflection on the methodological risks common to all methods. The chapter emphasizes the importance of research strategies aimed at neutralizing the many inherent cognitive biases in the study of discrimination.

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Laura Ferguson

This chapter explores the methodological challenges in assessing health-related human rights from both a human rights perspective and a public health perspective. It provides an introduction to the relevance of human rights to health, and how to think about assessment in this context. Examples are provided of tools, mechanisms and datasets that can provide information relevant to assessing health-related rights. Finally, key challenges are explored. Overall, it surveys some different methods that can be used for assessing human rights in health, noting their respective pitfalls and advantages, with a view to informing the selection of methods for future work in this area.

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Anne Hellum

Human rights, in all parts of the world, operate in a terrain were a plurality of normative orders coexist, interact and sometimes conflict. Whether legal pluralities prevents or promotes human rights for different groups and for differently positioned individuals is a contested issue. This chapter shows how the role of legal pluralities as an enabling and constraining factor to human rights realization can be studied empirically in local contexts. The use of law as a semi-autonomous social field is demonstrated in comparative case studies of the interplay between international, national and local water norms in three social and geographically distinct localities in Zimbabwe.

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Edited by Bård A. Andreassen, Hans-Otto Sano and Siobhán McInerney-Lankford

Methodological discussion has largely been neglected in human rights research, with legal scholars in particular tending to address research methods and methodological reflection implicitly rather than explicitly. This book advances thinking on human rights methodology, offering instruction and guidance on the methodological options for human rights research.
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Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Victoria Brooks

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Anna Grear

Law’s paradigmatic subject has been criticized, especially by feminist theorists, as being relatively invulnerable, complexly disembodied, rationalistic and separative. This is a subject at a constructed ‘centre’ for whom living materiality – even the human body itself – is merely an extended, object-ified periphery – and for whom epistemological mastery and a scopophilic view ‘from nowhere’ reflects a relentlessly assumed ontological priority. Against the impugned Cartesian and Kantian assumptions underlying traditional liberal legal subjectivity, and its subject-object relations, this chapter explores the theoretical gains offered by foregrounding, in place of the ‘autonomous liberal subject’, the notion of vulnerable, embodied eco-subjectivities explicitly interwoven within a vulnerable ecology. What implications could or should such a theoretical approach have for environmental law and processes? What might replace the binary subject-object relations assumed by the autonomous liberal subject, and what kind of juridical imaginary might be instituted by foregrounding the openness and affectability of vulnerability?

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Bettina Lange

The purpose of this chapter is to facilitate socio-legal research about environmental law ‘in action’ by introducing three perspectives which can serve as heuristic devices for conceptualizing ‘nature-society’ interactions in environmental law ‘in action’. The first perspective suggests that we can trace through legal texts, as well as Guidance Documents and enforcement practices, how nature and society become represented and constructed in specific ways. A second approach, which builds on Actor-Network Theory, decentres law and attributes a more active role to nature. Here nature and society are ‘co-constructed’ in networks that also include law. The third approach – which is the focus of this chapter – recognizes the place-based characteristics of ‘nature’, and captures society-nature interactions in environmental law through the idea of mapping regulatory onto natural spaces. The chapter further illustrates this latter perspective through the example of Integrated Water Resource Management, a key policy concept that informs water law in a number of jurisdictions.

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Andrea Pavoni

This chapter sketches the contours of a methodological attitude aimed to explore the spatiality and materiality of law by taking abstraction seriously and using abstraction strategically. This is done through five steps. First, I briefly account for the impact that the spatial and subsequent (affective, material, post-human) turns in social sciences and humanities had on the notion of the social. Second, I draw the relative consequences vis-à-vis the law, by introducing the notion of spatiolegal. Third, I describe the way in which within the legal system, as well as legal thinking more generally, space has been systematically misunderstood. I especially focus on the case of socio-legal and critical legal approaches, highlighting how beneath their misunderstandings they betray a common incapacity to overcome the separation between law and space, thus reaffirming under another guise the opposition between the abstract and the concrete. Fourth, I tackle this question by integrating insights on the ‘real’, ‘concrete’ and ‘productive’ quality of abstractions, coming from Karl Marx, Peter Goodrich, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Along these four sections, the strategic significance of re-evaluating the notion of abstraction becomes gradually apparent, both in the political and methodological sense. Therefore, fifth, I conclude by distilling the discussion hitherto developed, and operationalise it through an empirical example. In this way I am able to show the methodological approach developed in this chapter at work, as well as to provide a minimal testing ground for assessing its usefulness.

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Emilie Cloatre

In recent years, actor-network theory (ANT), and the work of Bruno Latour in particular, have gained significant interest amongst legal scholars. This approach, derived from Science and Technology Studies (STS) and bearing various links with anthropology and ethnographic methods, has enabled new insights to emerge in relation to the ways in which law operates in everyday practices. The innovative position the approach suggests has been largely based on the breaking down of the dichotomy between nature and society, humans and non-humans, and in turn on an emphasis on the importance of materiality in social practices (and its complexity). In his early work, Bruno Latour therefore laid out the foundations of what was to become a radical rethink of sociological assumptions, by challenging the extent to which humanity can ever be imagined as being fundamentally separate from nature. Consequently, he argued that some of the most fundamental assumptions of modernity, about how knowledge is made, societies are built, and humans can relate to their environment, are mistaken and in need of revisiting. Given its deep engagement with our relationship with nature, and its grounding in the sociology of science, it is somehow surprising that ANT has not been more frequently explored in environmental law – in spite of a few examples. However, more resources are available to those wanting to imagine what an ‘ANT approach to environmental law’ may look like, if engaging with STS and the anthropology of science literature that has in recent years aimed to unpack some of the legal stories that surround environmental practices. In this chapter, I seek to bring together some of this scholarship to reflect on what ANT can bring to environmental law research. The chapter is illustrated specifically with the example of the use of natural resources for industrial purposes, and the long-standing debates on ‘biopiracy’ that have animated much legal debate since the 1990s. Through this example, I retrace the difficulty for modern environmental law to engage with practices that challenge the boundaries between nature and humanity, and the dichotomies on which law has so far operated. I explore how studies that have embraced some of the more radical claims of ANT and STS, and engaged ethnographic analyses of social practices, have illustrated how law often fails to seize the messiness of the entanglement of nature and society. I conclude by discussing how ANT, and the work of Bruno Latour, can be used more broadly by environmental lawyers seeking to reimagine the ways in which law relates to nature.