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  • Series: Handbooks of Research Methods in Law series x
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Bård A. Andreassen, Hans-Otto Sano and Siobhán McInerney-Lankford

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Martin Scheinin

This chapter addresses one of the most important questions for the methodology of human rights law, both as a social practice and as a scholarly discipline, namely how to interpret the provisions of human rights treaties, many of which are seemingly vague or open-ended as texts. The author defends the view that there is a proper methodology for legal interpretation, understood as giving specific and concrete meaning to those texts. Even if different scholars or different lawyers may sometimes end up defending differing interpretations, the interpretive activity of each of them can be assessed for the correctness of its methodology and ultimately also for the correctness of the answer arrived at.

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Siobhán McInerney-Lankford

Siobhan McInerney-Lankford examines ‘internal’ and ‘external’ challenges of human rights legal research. The first relates to the depth and critical quality of mainstream human rights legal research and the tendency of human rights lawyers to assume the validity of the norms underpinning human rights law. The second challenge relates to the breadth and orientation of human rights law, which often overlooks the impact and policy uptake of human rights norms. The chapter concludes by exploring the implications of these critiques for human rights legal methodology and the need to recognize and safeguard the distinct contributions of human rights discourse.

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Hilde Bondevik and Inga Bostad

The chapter gives an introduction to the method of philosophical hermeneutics and the prejudicial character of understanding. We discuss how the concepts of hermeneutics can be used in the argumentation and interpretation of legal texts and human rights principles and treaties, in applied research, as well as in theoretical analyses of human rights issues. Hermeneutics finds favor with the field of human rights and in situations where we need to understand and communicate across different social groups and cultures. Referencing Gadamer, Benhabib and Nussbaum we seek to bridge the traditional gap between the humanities and legal science, which have often been regarded as two disciplines with distinctive theoretical and methodological approaches. The case of the ‘burqa bans’ or the ban on face covering will be applied as a case study.

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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.