New Announcements: 2/14/2020

  • Award Nominations (Gordan Hirabayashi Book Award, Best Article Award, Best Graduate Student Paper Award)
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Winter 2020 Section Newsletter

In this issue:

Letter from the Chair by Elizabeth Heger Boyle

Reflection on the Trump Administration by Cecilia Menjívar

Corporate Influence Threatens Human Rights in Communities Nationwide by Jackie Smith

Rights Under Siege: A Graduate Student Perspective by Julia Schoonover

Northeastern Syria Caught Between Trump’s Nationalism and Evangelical Internationalism by Miray Philips

Make America Hope Again by Rodney Coates

Newsletter Co-editors:
Tim Gill 
– University of North Carolina-Wilmington

Tianna S. Paschel 
University of California -Berkeley

Letter from the Chair

Many thanks to Timothy Gill and Tianna S. Paschel for assembling this timely newsletter. I’m honored to be able to work with such great people as Chair of the Section. In this introduction, I provide an overview of the Newsletter contents, along with a few thoughts on academia, rights, and the Trump Administration.

In today’s hyper-partisan environment, it may be the best of times and the worst of times for human rights. More than ever, United States activists are using human rights language and turning to international human rights organizations to forward their claims. For example, sociologists have long been concerned that conflating the public and private sectors works against the public interest (e.g., Mills 1956). Only recently, however, has this research been connected with human rights. Professor Jackie

Smith, University of Pittsburgh, working with community leaders in U.S. cities, has taken the issue of inappropriate corporate influence to the UN Human Rights Council. The report she has co-authored will be part of the universal periodic human rights review of the U.S., a process that all UN member states undergo every five years. You can read more about this important initiative below.

With new initiatives like this, it’s a great time to reflect on integrating human rights into our teaching. In another contribution, SUNY-Buffalo graduate student Julia Schoonover describes how she has sought to incorporate human rights issues into her classroom, with a special emphasis on the rights of immigrants and refugees in the local community.

Unfortunately, even as scholars and activists work together to promote rights in some realms, in other realms, we see a retrenchment of rights. A case in point is the Commission on Unalienable Rights, formed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Commission seems destined to further divorce the U.S. from international human rights law and undermine global consensus on what constitutes fundamental rights. At the first meeting of the newly formed commission, Secretary Pompeo expressed fear that human rights have become conflated with “personal preferences.” He noted that the UN and the Council of Europe have 64 human rights-related agreements between them. For him, this is concrete evidence that human rights have expanded too much. In contrast, my primary reaction to this figure is “So what?” The number has no meaning in itself; if anything, it is a positive signal of the level of global consensus concerning human rights.

Alarming for members of the ASA Human Rights Section is the role that respected academics, including Sociologists, are playing in legitimating the Commission. Scholars are serving as members of the Commission and presenting their research at Commission meetings. Some of these academics have conducted research with conclusions at odds with the goals of the Commission. No doubt, they are hoping their participation can mitigate negative outcomes.

Others, like Professor Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard and Chair of the Commission, have world views that align more closely with Pompeo’s. Even these individuals, however, may be pushed in uncomfortable directions. As my co-authors and I describe in our recent Annual Review of Law & Social Sciences article, Glendon was the first woman to head a Holy See delegation to a United Nations conference. Her views reflect a mix of cultural conservatism and deep concern over economic inequalities. In terms of the Commission, both Pompeo and Glendon view the Commission’s work as urgent. Beyond that, according to the Center for American Progress, while for Glendon a primary concern is China’s attempts to undermine the global consensus on human rights, for Pompeo the primary goal is to review and limit universal human rights. In fact, the U.S. actions may be as harmful as the Chinese actions in terms of undercutting global human rights norms.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights is just one example of how it’s a critical moment to reflect on the best ways for scholars to engage with policymakers, particularly within a regime that plays fast and loose with the rule of law. Will participation lead to a better outcome, or simply lend legitimacy to a dangerous and deleterious endeavor? Careful observation and analysis, such as that provided below by graduate student Miray Philips, is certainly one important intervention. Attending the 2019 Values Voters Summit, where Trump was the keynote speaker, Philips is able to report on the intersection of domestic and international politics.

This newsletter gives several other examples in which scholars and scholarship can enlighten and potentially influence human rights outcomes. It begins by reprising the Section’s 2017 issue of “Rights Under Siege” to assess where things stand today. Professor Cecilia Menjivar provides an update concerning migrants at the border, and we link back to her original contribution—the abuses outlined there continue today. Professor Rodney Coates updates his contribution on intersectional politics under Trump. He calls on members of the Human Rights Section and other critical sociologists to “choose to dismantle the racial structures that manipulate White anxieties—often at the expense of people of color and other marginalized groups.”

In sum, this Newsletter provides much food for thought for Sociologists interested in human rights. Please feel free to share your own scholarship in future newsletters and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, so that we can continue the conversation.

Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Section Chair 


Boyle, Elizabeth Heger, Shannon Golden, and Wenjie Liao. 2017. “The Catholic Church and International Law,” Annual Review of Law & Social Science 13: 399-411.

Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reflection on the Trump Administration

By Cecilia Menjívar, University of California -Los Angeles

Two years ago, I wrote a reflection on what the dramatic expansion of immigration enforcement under the Trump administration meant for immigrants’ rights. I pointed out the myriad legal, formal ways that facilitate the erosion of immigrant rights, both as workers and as members of their communities. I included an example from a decade earlier to underscore the enduring nature of these strategies; they have been in place for over two decades so it is not a new development under this administration. The example of the Guatemalan Maya worker was also meant to highlight how enforcement mechanisms pave the way for immigrants to start believing that they have no rights, lacking even the ‘rights to have rights.’ My reflection signaled both, an enduring trend in immigration enforcement toward punitive measures that erode rights, but also the insidious nature of the regime itself in immigrants’worldviews and sense of self and belonging.

This situation has worsened today. The expansion of enforcement, both in the interior of the country and beyond the physical borders of the country into ‘transit’ countries, has been amplified. Almost weekly, the administration proposes new rules and regulations that continue to encroach on immigrants’ livelihoods and rights, affecting all aspects of life. Recently, the Justice Department issued a rule for federal authorities to collect DNA samples from immigrants crossing the border, which could have wide- ranging implications for the immigrants themselves and for their families already in the United States, and further undermine immigrants’ rights through expanded surveillance. Like two years ago, the sustained expansion of enforcement and its insidious effects have also galvanized immigrant rights’ organizations into action. For instance, groups rallied to defeat theadministration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census; it was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The threat to end temporary protected status for certain groups spurred a forceful response, such as the formation the National TPS alliance to lobby legislators, engage in marches and protest, and fight the threats through the courts. They have garnered some victories, such as additional extensions of this permit for some groups. And the threat to end DACA has met with a similar response from a wide range of groups; this case now awaits the U.S.

Supreme Court’s decision. While the long-standing trend to expand enforcement continues so does the response from rights groups to confront and counter the attacks. The power imbalance between the two is enormous, but through hard work and perseverance immigrant rights groups are making a dint.

Corporate Influence Threatens Human Rights in Communities Nationwide

By Jackie Smith

University of Pittsburgh

In 2017, Amazon launched an unprecedented inter-city competition to see which municipality could offer the most generous package of public subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives in exchange for becoming host to the 2nd headquarters of one of the world’s richest corporations. The company just made unprecedented—and outrageous—move as it spent $1.5 million on campaign contributions to shape local elections in its headquarter city of Seattle. Such actions have drawn scrutiny from growing numbers, as more Americans are recognizing the links between corporate influence and rising housing costs, inequality, and under-funded public budgets.

As presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren put forward policy initiatives for new rules to rein in corporate influence, community leaders in cities across the country have filed a formal report entitled “The growth of corporate influence in sub-national political & legal institutions undermines U.S. compliance with international human rights obligations” to the United Nations. The report is part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States’ human rights record, which invites stakeholder reports from community representatives to help UN officials and other world leaders evaluate performance reports supplied by the national government.

Recognizing that “human rights don’t trickle down,” activist groups around the country are rising up to become part of the solution to persistent gaps in human rights. The aim is to shift the focus of local and national government from the current priorities of corporate profits and economic growth to human rights and well-being.

More than a year of consultations among community-based organizers and municipal officials inform the stakeholder report. Cross-city conversations have revealed corporate practices as a common challenge, and the report links these to human rights deficiencies in the areas of democratic participation, affordable housing, privatization and the right to water, militarism and gun violence, environment and health, and racial equity. Report authors argue that routine operations of corporate entities prevent governments from doing a better job enforcing international human rights obligations. Poor regulation and enforcement as well as corporate corruption of local and national politics are cited as the leading causes of violations.

Some additional highlights from the report include:

At a time when many municipal budgets are seriously under-funded, officials in many cities offered billions of dollars of public subsidies to become host to Amazon’s 2nd headquarters. In most cases these bids were developed without meaningful public consultation and kept secret from the public, often in direct violation of open records laws. This is just the most visible example of large corporations effectively denying residents a voice in how their communities develop.

Corporate-led development has contributed to spiraling housing costs and undermined people’s right to affordable and safe housing. At the same time, the long-term trend of reduced corporate tax rates has deprived governments of revenues needed to maintain public infrastructures and ensure universal access to basic needs. The global housing crisis contributes to worldwide poverty and displacement that is especially harmful for groups protected under human rights law, including low-income people, people of African descent, and those with disabilities.

Privatization of public utilities has also limited people’s access to clean and affordable water, and restrictions on the internationally recognized human right to water disproportionately impact African American residents. Other issues cited in the report included the inequitable distribution of environmental hazards, racial discrimination and equity, and gun violence. Many of these issues arise from the lack of effective regulation on corporate practices, which has worsened with Trump administration rollbacks of protections for civil and political rights, the environment, and consumers.

The experiences documented in a range of cities—including Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Detroit, among others— reveal patterns of violations of a considerable body of national and international laws and standards detailed in the document. For instance, the United States is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, which requires national efforts to eliminate systemic disparities based on race. Often local officials are not aware of their legal obligations under this and other international human rights conventions, despite the obligation of national leaders to educate and inform sub-national officials and the general public.

A Focus on Solutions

The UPR process designed to engage a variety of stakeholders in efforts to find solutions, and the report makes a number of recommendations for improving national policies affecting municipalities’ ability to carry out human rights obligations. It cites a

U.S. Conference of Mayors 2017 Resolution to move federal tax dollars “from militarism to human and environmental needs” in calling on the U.S. government to provide municipalities with the resources they need to ensure that all residents’ rights are protected.

It also calls on the U.S. government to support international efforts to hold corporations accountable to international human rights standards, including the draft treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations. The size and scale of today’s multinational corporations make it impossible for most national governments—much less local ones—to monitor and enforce regulations. Local communities need greater national and international enforcement of existing regulations.

Concerted action at the national level is needed to counter racism and xenophobia and to promote a culture that supports human rights and democratic values. The extreme polarization encouraged by Trump’s rhetoric and xenophobic policies undermines social cohesion and fuels conflict in local settings, undermining efforts of local governments to manage the variety of other challenges they face, such as ageing urban infrastructures, economic globalization, and threats from climate change.

The U.S. Human Rights Cities Alliance is working to raise consciousness about these issues and to advance the stakeholder report’s recommendations. Between now and the UN Human Rights Council’s formal review of the United States record in May of 2020, local and national consultations will help develop and share strategies for realizing human rights in our communities and cities, seeking to change policy discourse to make human rights the overriding focus and goal of public policy.

This article was originally published on Monday, October 28, 2019 by Common Dreams.

Rights Under Siege: A Graduate Student Perspective
By Julia Schoonover University of Buffalo

Living and working in Buffalo, New York, a sanctuary city, and a major destination for refugees has allowed me to better understand the hurdles that refugees and immigrants face as they establish their new lives in a new city. Sanctuary cities provide undocumented immigrants protection from enforcement agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who frequently overstep their boundaries. As a Graduate Instructor at the University at Buffalo, I teach students from varying backgrounds and work with refugees and immigrants, all with varying levels of civil, political, and social citizenship.

I have spent time talking with my students and different members of my community about what it means to have our rights realized. Through my work with refugee resettlement and immigrant advocacy agencies, I have been able to better understand the many different ways that our rights are under siege. It is of particular interest to myself, as well as community advocates to understand the ways that cities, such as Buffalo ensure and enable the sanctuary of those who are undocumented, who are trans, or who may be discriminated against based on their varying identities.

While places that deem themselves as sanctuary cities are only promising to limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, I have recently undertaken a study to see how true this may be. To better understand this problem, I will be partnering with local advocacy organizations and enforcement agencies to analyze the frequency in which sanctuary principles are violated. I was able to undertake this project, as well as other research projects due to the strength of my relationships with NGOs and advocacy organizations throughout my community. In the past, I have worked with refugee resettlement agencies to better understand the barriers that many individuals and families face upon their arrival. My work at the International Institute, a refugee resettlement agency is outlined below: “During her time at the Institute, Julia spearheaded many projects, including the enhancement of the HELLO Program (IIB’s English-as-a-new- language program) and most notably the creation of the Internship Matching Assessment; a one-of-a-kind matching program that served to link prospective interns to the most suited internships. Julia brought an intersectional approach to the Institute – she considered how the individuality of all interns, clients and fellow staff impacted the outcomes of case planning objectives.”

Improving human rights comes in many forms. Personally and professionally, I work hard to challenge the siege of human rights in the United States through centering my teaching and researching around human rights. In the classroom, I have attempted to establish an environment that shows students the ways that their rights may be under siege. This is done through active learning and empowering students to find possible, personal solutions to the issues for which they have the most passion. We participate in activities, and I regularly ask students to consider the following questions: How knowledgeable are you on the concept of social privilege? Do you ever reflect upon the systematic privileges you may or may not experience because of race, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, religion, physical/mental abilities, nationality, and citizenship status? Many students are in positions of power as they have been able to access higher education, but they experience this with the duality of their lives outside of the university. Students have diverse backgrounds, some of which have been shaped by stark sieging of their rights. Connecting the sieging of these rights to institutional, local, and national social inequalities can enable students to identify possible solutions or ways in which they can claim and reclaim their rights.

To say that our rights are under siege is to say that those who oppose individual autonomy are taking active steps to make them surrender, to silence them. It is often that we, as Americans, give up our civil and political rights and the rights of others for our security to be guaranteed. As I continue to advance as a student and scholar, I have begun to understand the value that combining community context and advocacy can help students not only connect with material in the classroom but further impact our community as well as my research. While teaching my current class, Social Inequality, following our discussion of problems I inform students about opportunities within their communities to address these issues. Through my research and teaching, I attempt to inform individuals that the power realizing your rights has. Realizing your rights enables individuals to realize their power and repossess their autonomy.

Northeastern Syria Caught Between Trump’s Nationalism and Evangelical Internationalism

By Miray Philips

University of Minnesota

When President Trump decided to pull U.S. troops out of Northern Syria, enabling Turkey to invade, there was outrage across the foreign policy establishment in Washington DC. Advocates, lawmakers, and politicians across the political aisle expressed dissent through public statements, social media, and even proposed legislation. The dissenting force was so unsurmountable that in a matter of weeks, the U.S. House passed legislation to recognize the Armenian Genocide, allocate an additional $40 million in financial aid to Armenia, and sanction Turkish officials and arms-sales to Turkey. Trump’s decision shook evangelicalpolitical and religious leaders, even the loyalists amongst them, who believed that the withdrawal of U.S. troops betrays Kurdish military allies and endangers Syrian Christians. Considering the importance of religious freedom and combatting Christian persecution for evangelicals, this decision heightened tensions between Trump’s nationalism and evangelicalinternationalism.

Days after his decision, President Trump keynoted the 2019 Values Voter Summit, an annual conference promoting conservative values and policies on abortion, the family, religious liberty, and sexuality. At the conference, I spotted a priest who paired his clerical black cassock with a MAGA hat, and others who sported Make the Family Great Again hats. The summit is hosted by the Family Research Council, spearheaded by Tony Perkins, who is also the Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Earlier, USCIRF had tweeted and published a statement citing concerns that Turkey’s incursion would harm ethnic and religious minorities. Trump speaking at a conference that allegedly espouses religious liberty is an inherent contradiction, and one that was felt throughout the summit.

At the gala dinner, where Trump was going to speak, I sat next to a young Minnesotan mother who was an ardent Trump supporter. We started chatting, and I introduced myself as Coptic Egyptian. She knew who Copts were and was concernedabout “all the terrorism” in Egypt, declaring that, “I don’t think we’re doing enough! We should do more.” This sentiment is common amongst evangelical Christians, who have mobilized relentlessly around the Persecuted Church in Muslim- majority countries. This phenomenon is what Melani McAlister (2019) argues is an example of evangelical internationalism. Since the rise of ISIS, Christians in the Middle East have become an object of this activism, reinforcing the belief that Christians are the most oppressed religious group in the world.

Trump entered the stage and immediately the room erupted in chants calling for four more years, drowning out the “eight more years!” coming from an elderly white woman at my table. While Trump’s remarks on abortions was received with standing ovations after almost every other sentence, his comments on Northeastern Syria were met with lesser audible enthusiasm. He was applauded, however, when he leveraged national concerns about the border: “I don’t think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home.” Trump appealed to his base by creating a dichotomy between national concerns and international responsibilities: We cannot have troops there, because we need them here.

After the keynote, my neighbor inquired about my thoughts on Trump’s remarks on Syria and Turkey. Drawing on internal logics about the war on terror and Christian persecution, I cited news sources reporting that ISIS fighters have broken out of prisons and Christians have been killed. She questioned the news’ reliability, calling journalists liars. “The U.S. needs to pull out its troops from Syria and let them just figure it out,” she echoed Trump’s isolationist talking points. On my other side, an elderly Texan man shared similar convictions about how the U.S. cannot fix “ancient wars in the Middle East.”

It comes as no surprise that evangelicals are outraged when Christians in the Middle East are threatened. Through the Persecuted Church movement, evangelicals have come to identify with Christians in the Middle East as part of a global Persecuted Body of Christ (McAlister 2018), where they feel a responsibility towards protecting their co-religionists. Particularly amongst evangelical populists, “Middle East Christians” are wielded as symbols of the horrors of terrorism and Islam, which was one of many reasons voters were drawn to Trump in 2016 (Whitehead, Perry and Baker, 2018). Trump’s decision to withdraw from Northeastern Syria and subsequent justifications not only leverage, but juxtapose, U.S. nationalism against any international responsibility. Though this juxtaposition was met with resistance amongst religious and political leaders, it appears to resonate with supporters who know less about the nuances of the situation unfolding in Syria. aught between evangelical internationalism and U.S. nationalism, Syrians ultimately bear the price of the U.S.’ populist politics.

Make America Hope Again

By Rodney Coates

Miami University

When Ilhan Omar, a Somali born, Muslim, Black woman immigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1992, she joined many other refugees and immigrants who left their homes in an effort to avoid restrictive governments, where political freedoms of speech and assembly were denied. They, in large part, came to our country where such freedoms are not only protected, but celebrated. Many became outspoken activists, community organizers and even elected officials. Representative Omar, elected as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district in 2019, brings this point home, as she has spoken out on U.S. foreign policy, Palestinian liberation andimmigrants’ rights (Gessen 2019). The wave of women of color elected into office in 2018 may help spur more women to become more politically involved by running for office. Theseissueshighlightthe importance, and often overlooked impact of political intersectionality on our electoral processes. Intersectional politics makes reference to the political identity groups (i.e. the patterning of intersectional identities race/ethnicity, class and gender) that forge alliances, develop strategies, and attempt to control political discourse, issues, processes, elections, and events. In this way, intersectional identities produce intersectional politics that reflects the complicated terrain that defines the American political structures. This piece’s main focus is to understand intersectional politics as it relates to power, politics and identities.

Many people in America on the political left believe that working- class white voters made Donald Trump president in 2016. According to this logic, these voters, historically bigoted, were essentially reaffirming theirracialpreference. Theproblem with this logic is that a significant number of these very same voters made it possible for Barack Obama to be elected in both 2008 and 2012. The reality of Donald Trump’s election was that it reflected the intersectional politics that lies at the core of our political structure. Consequently, it’s the intersection of racial resentment and economic anxiety that played a key role in the election of Trump to become the 45th president of the U.S. (Cherlin, Andrew 2019)

On October 23, 2019, a group of Republicans forced their way into the closed-door impeachment proceedings, delaying the disposition of witnesses for five hours. But the real news was how these actions were described by Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier as “a high school prank by a bunch of 50- year-old white men.” Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the Republicans objecting to the label, responded “Did she say we were a bunch of white men? What does the fact that we are white men have to do with our desire to represent the millions of constituents we serve?” And in a strange irony, not unlike so much of our politics, his comment harkens to the 2011 hit song by Lady Gaga “Born This Way” which makes specific reference to “cholas” and “orients.” The song is considered by many as an anthem for marginalized and disenfranchised, racial minorities, to include LGBT, and an expression of self-empowerment. Gaetz continues “I am a white male, I guess I’m a little old-fashioned. Identify as a white male because I am a white male and . . . I guess it’s because I was born that way” (Hall 2019). Intersectional identities, which include race, gender and social status, continue to define our racial landscape.

Donald Trump effectively marshaled various White identity groups and capitalized on White angst, anger, and fears with his slogan “Make America Great Again.” Angry White males in the U.S. often coalesce into political, far-right extremist movements. Fueling these movements are notions of humiliation, which can also lead to violence. And we saw this violence erupt as anti-racist and alt-right forces collided in Charlottesville.

The real question before us, as sociologists, is: where do we go from here? The marches and counter marches shine the spotlight on our racial fault lines, but they are ill- equipped to do more. Critical sociologists can provide the analytical tools to not only reveal, but also point to ways by which these racial fault lines may be deconstructed. Simply put, the problems at the core of White anger and the victimization of people of color are structural. Removing the symbols of this anger and victimization may provide some measure of psychic relief for people of color, but only serves to aggravate the angst of poor Whites. Sociologists can continue to fight these symbolic battles and relish the symbolic victories, or we can choose to dismantle the racial structures that manipulate White anxieties— often at the expense of people of color and other marginalized groups. We might discover that “hurting people hurt others” and that many of our policies and many of our actions have only aggravated the fault lines. Academics could also suggest that universities and public sites become more open and inclusive by providing scholarships, training, and access to marginalized people. Perhaps a start would be to recognize that not only people of color and gendered/sexual minorities are marginalized, but also poor, Whites. Through such a process, maybe, just maybe we can provide some healing of our various racial wounds.

Currently the song playing across America is “Make America Hate Again.” This song, with its sad refrains of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, hopelessness, and despair – unless you are part of the chosen few – can only take us down. Let us sing today a new song, made fresh with the hopes and dreams of countless millions. Let their song ring from the mountaintops of possibilities and cleanse the valleys of nothingness. Let us sing now and “Make America Hope Again.”

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2019 Summer Newsletter: Fragile Democracies

Downloadable PDF: HR Newsletter – Final (Large File)

Fragile Democracies

A Message from the Newsletter Co-Editors

This Summer Newsletter is dedicated to thinking through the relationship between human rights in the age of fragile democracies. We believe that this is a timely topic given the dramatic shift toward right-wing populism in many countries in the Global South and Global North alike. The articles here focus on Botswana, Brazil, and India, and examine the impact of this swing to the right on legal protections while also examining the relationship between human rights and economic relations.

These articles also raise questions about what is new about this moment, if anything at all. Indeed, some of the articles here suggest that the fundamental arrangements of power in places from India to Brazil have led to continuities in dispossession, violence, and disenfranchisement. As such, these scholars implicitly and explicitly challenge narratives that cast this moment as a particularly troubling one for human rights. These contributions also move beyond a focus on the state of political

discourse and move toward an examination of the actual policies implemented by right-wing governments, as well as the social movements that have challenged them.

Timothy Gill – assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington,

Tianna S. Paschel – associate professor of sociology and African American Studies at the University of California -Berkeley

2019 Section Awards

Congrats to Section Award Winners!

The Section on Sociology of Human Rights’ Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award:

Recipient: Kiyoteru Tsutsui. 2018. Rights Make Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Honorable Mention: Chua, Lynette. 2019. The Politics of Love in Myanmar: LGBT Mobilization and Human Rights as a Way of Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

The Section thanks the 2019 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award Committee:
Christopher N. J. Roberts (Chair), University of Minnesota; Matthias Koenig, University of Goettingen; and Zakiya Luna, University of California Santa Barbara.

The Section on Sociology of Human Rights’ Best Graduate Student Paper Award:

Recipient: Andrew P. Davis, “Middle Status Conformity in the World Polity: Global Institutional Embeddedness and Sexual Violence in Civil Conflict.” Honorable Mention: Ioana Sendroiu, “Human Rights as Uncertain Performance during the Arab Spring.”

The Section thanks the Graduate Student Paper Award Committee: James Mahoney (Chair), Northwestern University; David Frank, UC-Irvine; and Tianna Paschel, UC-Berkeley.

New Section Officers

As we approach the 2019 annual ASA meeting in NYC, we will welcome new officers of the Section:

Chair Elect: Christopher Roberts, University of Minnesota

Secretary Treasurer: Timothy Gill, University of North Carolina – Wilmington

Council: Yasemin Soysal, University of Essex; John Dale, George Mason University

Student Representative: Miray Philips, University of Minnesota

During the annual meeting, we will celebrate achievements of our Section’s members, including the Section’s Book Award and Graduate Student Paper Prize Award.

Gift Memberships

The Human Rights Section is seeking to increase the number of our members. If the Section reaches its goals, it will earn another session for the 2020 annual meeting as well as more funding to hold its reception and other activities.

Please consider giving a membership! ASA members can purchase gift section memberships for students at (Login required). Once logged into the member portal, choose the “Purchase a gift section membership” link under the Contribute/Give heading. Students can be searched by name through the online member database. You can create a new contact record if you can’t find your student in the database. The student will receive a confirmation by email of the gift section membership purchase. The gift buyer will also get an emailed receipt from ASA. The deadline for 2018 ASA gift section membership additions is July 31, 2019. There is no limit on the number of gift section membership recipients.

2018 Graduate Student Paper Award

By Claudia Lopez

Good morning, I would like to begin by acknowledging and thanking LaDawn Haglund and Yan Long for their work on the award committee. It is my distinct pleasure to award the 2018 ASA Human Rights Section Best Graduate Student Paper Award to Saskia Dunkell for her paper, “Decoupling Transitional Justice: Selective Approaches for Addressing Human Rights Abuses in Colombia.” This paper examine the historical context, politics, and power struggles within a country that shift and facilitate transitional justice mechanisms. Dunkell discusses how transitional justice mechanisms are framed as an acceptable and “taken for granted” approach for addressing mass violence and argues that countries adopt these mechanisms in different uneven ways. The paper uses the concept of selective coupling to “better explain how states adopt some components of a policy that signals a commitment to a global standard, while rejecting or altering other aspects in response to national pressures.” Based on 16 months of fieldwork in Colombia, Dunkell highlights two transitional justice approaches—a justice-focused approach for paramilitaries in 2005 and an acknowledgment-focused approach for guerrillas in 2016. By highlighting these two approaches, the author is able to analyze how the state tweaks, challenges, and changes particular aspects of transitional justice mechanisms at different historical moments. Most interestingly, the paper shows how selective coupling happens not solely between countries but also within one country.

The committee selected this paper due to is significant contribution to the sociology of human rights. Methodologically, the fieldwork is impressive and the qualitative study adds depth to research on the decoupling of international human rights commitments. Theoretically, we found Dunkell’s selective coupling framework innovative and applicable in broader contexts. The paper adds to sociological theories of globalization by disputing previous research that suggests that the globalization of human rights as “a cohesive, universal, and irreversible trend.” Please join me in congratulating Saskia Dunkell.

Letter from Brian Gran, Sociology of Human Rights Section Chair

In mid-February, I ruptured quad tendons in both knees. A slip-and-fall on ice led to the ER, then surgery, the hospital, a return to the ER, a two-week stay in a skilled nursing facility for rehab, and then home with physical therapy twice a week, along with another visit to the ER where the physician greeted me with, “You again.”

On my back, looking up at the beautiful cold sky, I had two realizations. One, I should have worn a hat. Second, Bryan Turner is right about vulnerabilities and human rights. In that lightning-fast moment, I realized that I was as vulnerable as the next person to the risk of life- changing consequences, circumstances we all share.

There is a foundation to human rights—namely, our common vulnerability…While humans may not share a common culture, they are bound together by the risks and perturbations that arise from their (our) vulnerability” (Turner 2006: 9). Further, “We need social support and legal protection precisely because we cannot successfully respond to our vulnerability by individual acts undertaken in isolation. We need collective arrangements, including human rights protection (Turner 2006: 10).

Turner’s point that rights are collective arrangements is apparent in U.S. health care, where contracts and unequal bargaining power are prevalent and rights are absent. Skilled nursing administrators discreetly warned that soon I would be “cut.” They had learned that the insurance company had done the math and determined that it had fulfilled its part of the contract. I had little room to challenge this determination. During physical therapy, the partner of another patient shared that “getting cut” was typical. This partner explained that the patient had been cut because the insurance company decided the patient was not making progress. His doctor successfully argued that leukemia recovery is not linear, and the skilled nursing facility re-admitted him. Now she feared their “insurance was running out.” A physical therapist explained the next day that the partner stayed at the facility 24-7 because she was afraid he would be cut in her absence.

We live during a (another) time of divide and conquer. Contract is king. Frictions are constructed that foster suspicions and hatred. Members of some groups are denied the right to have rights. Borders are erected to deny human rights, even as citizenship rights are

denied to groups living within those borders. History is forgotten or is unknown. Some leaders want to deny not only our history, but our humanity.

Now is an important time to do sociology of human rights. Turner is right to point to our shared frailty as a reason for everyone to care about, support, and protect human rights. As we research and teach about theories of rights, how to study rights and their impacts, smoke and mirrors government leaders use when it comes to human rights, and factors shaping suspension as well as expansion of human rights, we should keep in mind the importance of our commitment to scholarship of human rights. Our scholarship is crucial not only to Sociology, but to the societies in which we live.

Featured Article: “Fragile Hegemony and Faltering Democracy in Botswana

By Jason C. Mueller

Botswana is routinely heralded as an “African miracle” and a “role model” for developmental success (see Samatar 1999; Robinson 2013). This ‘miracle’ is fueled by intensive exploitation of vast diamond reserves, with large portions of export earnings and GDP coming from these precious concentrations of carbon (Grynberg et al. 2015; USGS 1994, 2013). However, not all is well in the ‘miracle’ state. Numerous social problems have emerged in recent years, with more on the horizon. This essay provides a critical overview of the Botswanan government’s lurch towards authoritarian, non-democratic, and anti-worker policies.

Since obtaining national independence, Botswana has been ruled by the Botswana Democratic Party (henceforth BDP). Botswana’s first President, Seretse Khama, and the ruling BDP were crystal clear in their platform: they were pro-capitalist, aggressively sought foreign investment, avoided rapid ‘Africanization’ of state bureaucracies, and promised would-be investors that they would not nationalize their natural resources (Samatar 1999). In the next several decades after independence: (1) Diamonds became Botswana’s key export to achieve economic growth; and (2), the BDP remained in power, promoting a national-popular discourse that proclaimed all Botswanans as beneficiaries of good- natured policy prescriptions of Seretse Khama and his BDP colleagues and successors.

In 1996, the Government of Botswana (henceforth GoB) began drafting a blueprint that would lead them towards democracy and prosperity over the course of two decades (GoB 1997). By 2016, Botswana was to become an equitable nation without poverty, “moral and tolerant…compassionate,” and a nation that was “open, democratic and accountable…[with] a system of decentralised democracy” (p. 56). In addition to press and speech freedom, civil society was to “play a full part in the development of the country” (p. 56). These professed goals stand in stark contrast to the BDP’s/GoB’s current agenda, which includes: [1] Forced population relocation of the indigenous San (often referred to as “Basarwa” and/or “Bushmen”); [2] increased hostility towards the Botswanan workforce; (3) consolidation of power within the executive branch; and (4) a crackdown on freedom of speech and expression, and broader civil society. I briefly take up these issues below.

1) The San have lived in Southern Africa for over 20,000 years, with 45,000-60,000 currently residing in Botswana (Sarkin and Cook 2010: 6). The San are considered an ethnic minority, with a majority of Botswana’s population identifying as ethnically Tswana. In 1961, the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland—present day Botswana—established the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to preserve both wildlife and the San way of life in the Kalahari Desert region (p. 12). Diamonds were first discovered within in the CKGR in the early 1980s, and, by 1986, the GoB was announcing plans to relocate the San. There have been three major periods of San evictions in the region—1997, 2002, 2005— along with other incidents of arrests and ill treatment (Survival International, n.d.; The Ecologist 2015). The GoB routinely claims to have no intent to relocate the San to access natural resources, but these words ring hollow. The San won an historic case in 2006, with a Botswanan High Court Judge declaring that they were removed from their land “forcibly, unlawfully and without their consent” (cited in Ecologist 2015). The GoB routinely claims to have no intent to relocate the San to access natural resources, but these words ring hollow. The San won an historic case in 2006, with a Botswanan High Court Judge declaring that they were removed from their land “forcibly, unlawfully and without their consent” (cited in The Ecologist 2015). However, not only have numerous diamond companies and the GoB continually tried to set up shop within and around the CKGR, recent reports suggest that the GoB is looking to begin natural gas fracking in the region as well (Survival International 2013b). Furthermore, regardless of the 2006 court decision, the GoB continues to limit the San’s access to water boreholes, making it increasingly difficult to live a comfortable life within territories of their choosing (Survival International, n.d.).

2) The GoB shows increasing hostility towards organized labor, and workers in general. A nation- wide public sector strike rocked Botswana in 2011. There were also recent strikes by workers in the air transport and public health industries. These strikes were met with contempt by the GoB, at times illegitimately dismissing workers for participating in said strikes (Freedom House 2013; Letsididi 2015; Mosikari 2011). In 2015/2016, the GoB pushed to expand the legal category of “essential service” sectors in an attempt to explicitly prohibit such workers from engaging in “industrial action” (Mmegi Online 2017; Sunday Standard 2017). The relationship between organized labor and the BDP in the era of Ian Khama [Vice-President: 1998-2008, President: 2008-2018] and Mokgweetsi Masisi [Vice-President: 2014-2018, President: 2018- Present] is fraught, and Masisi’s “onslaught on the media and trade unionists” requires prolonged monitoring (Gabathuse 2018).

Ian Khama initiated several campaigns of governmental ‘reshuffling’ to consolidate power. Specifically, The Botswanan Directorates for [1] intelligence/security services and [2] economic crime/corruption were moved under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President. Additionally, in 2016, the Parliament of Botswana approved the creation of two new legislative seats to be appointed directly by the Executive as “specially elected” lawmakers (Freedom House 2016, 2017). One journalist recently described the situation in the following terms: “over the last 10 years, we saw a systematic hollowing out of state oversight institutions. Parliament became a rubber stamp of the Executive [… and while] the judiciary is the only branch of the state that still inspires some confidence among our people…we are seeing signs of interference and meddling by the Executive Office” (Mbuya 2017).

Gordon Bennett, a British attorney and lead Council representing the San in their earlier legal cases against the GoB was banned from returning to Botswana in 2013 (Sunday Standard 2018; Survival International 2013a). Similarly, Kenneth Good—an Australian-born scholar who spent 15 years as a Professor at the University of Botswana—was abruptly declared a “prohibited immigrant” and potential threat to national security, expelled from the country on short notice in 2005 (Pegg 2005). These cases clearly contradict the GoB’s professed dedication towards creating an open, tolerant, and accountable democracy.

The issues outlined above are stretching BDP hegemony to its limits. This must be considered in tandem with the fact that a “rapid, significant and permanent decline in diamond production” is likely looming just over the horizon for Botswana (Grynberg et al. 2015: 122). This will be accompanied by a decrease in government revenue and lower income and growth levels—potentially sparking social unrest as people compete for dwindling socio-economic resources (p. 125, 159-160). A languid national-popular discourse linking the ‘miracles’ of diamond-fueled- development to the long-term ‘visions’ of the BDP will eventually run out of steam. Additionally, while the GoB routinely herald diamonds as benefiting all Botswanan’s, this discourse seemingly excludes the San. Instead, members of the GoB view them as strange anachronisms, comparing their living conditions to that of living “in the dark ages” (cited in Survival International 2010).

Workers in Botswana are starting to connect the issues of economic exploitation to broader social and political goals. The Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) observed that, since the nation-wide strike in 2011 “BOFEPUSU members and Batswana in general have become politically conscious. Their political awareness is growing” (cited in Dube 2016). Various oppositional parties have also emerged to challenge the BDP. However, these groups have significant internal contradictions, fraught inter- organizational relationships, and tentative (but potentially fruitful) relationships with broader union movements (see Mogapi 2017; Tiro 2019).

The likelihood of rolling back the increasingly undemocratic practices in Botswana will require a broad coalition between workers of various sectors, human rights organizations, and socio-political movements. Forging alliances with transnational activist groups can also raise consciousness and promote solidarity. The chances of success increase when actors espouse new social imaginaries that link their particular struggles to the broader desire for a more equitable society—one that prioritizes people and planet over endless extraction-based ‘development.’ These challenges must occur at a distance from and within the state apparatus, shifting the balance of forces and creating institutions that have altogether different aims than their present orientation.

Jason Mueller is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at UC Irvine

Featured Article: “Race, Repression, and Representation: The Legacy of Marielle Franco in Bolsonaro’s Brazil”

By Cory Mengual

Marielle Franco, black intellectual and human rights activist, was the first queer woman of color to serve on the city council of Rio de Janeiro. She was elected in 2016 at 36 years old with the fifth-highest number of votes. A vocal opponent of police brutality and the destructive “pacification” of poor communities, Franco was brutally assassinated on March 14th, 2018, by a police-issue firearm and state-owned ammunition. Born and raised in the Rio favela of Maré, at the time of Marielle’s assassination, she was one of only two people of color in the 51-member body, while 48.8% of Rio’s population is non-white.

At a community event in Maré following her murder, an elderly black man wept at the podium: “We thought [once she was elected] she would be safe…When they attacked us here, we would call Marielle. Now who do we call? Who?”.

Almost a year later, after substantial delays and allegations of police interference in the investigation, former military police officers Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the assassination. Both men are tied to the dark Rio underworld where right-wing military officers and police rub shoulders with criminal militias and death squads. A series of connections also tie the men to President Jair Bolsonaro—Lessa lives two houses down the street in the same gated condominium complex, his daughter dated Bolsonaro’s youngest son, and photos have emerged of the men together. While the evidence does not currently attribute Marielle’s execution directly to Bolsonaro, the militias that killed the councilwoman have long found in the Bolsonaro family the apex of their political representation, and the most supreme expression of their hyper-violent ideology.

The assassination of Marielle Franco embodies the core belief of the political movement which propelled Jair Bolsonaro to power: the necessity and effectiveness of the illegal use of lethal force to “cleanse” Brazilian society of undesirables and reassert moral order. Bolsonaro has endorsed this cleansing explicitly, and specifically targets black and poor Brazilians as lazy or criminal, LGBT individuals as deviant and weak, the left as dishonest and corrupt, the indigenous as an obstacle to progress, and women as inferior and unfit to govern. In January, he passed a decree relaxing conditions for the purchase, registration, and ownership of firearms by civilians, and the Anti-Crime Bill put forward in March by his Minister of Justice and Public Security aims to grant the “licenses to kill” that Bolsonaro defended during the campaign, making it harder to prosecute police officers, militias, and armed civilians for excessive use of force.

Bolsonaro was swept to power by anxiety over rising crime, helped immensely by the questionable conviction and imprisonment of frontrunner and former President Lula da Silva (Indeed, the judge who convicted Lula was since appointed Minister of Justice by Bolsonaro.). Given his emphatic endorsement of extra-legal lethal force against the groups he blames for the country’s problems, and it should come as no surprise that his rise to power has been accompanied by a torrent of violence unleashed by his followers. Victims include a black capoeira instructor stabbed to death in Salvador for expressing support for the Workers’ Party; a gay stylist murdered and stuffed in his closet in Curitiba, his assassins leaving the messages “Long Live Bolsonaro” and “Friends Preaching Bolsonaro[‘s way]”; a woman violently beaten in Recife after leaving polls wearing the “Ele Não” button of the anti-Bolsonaro coalition; and 15 fifteen indigenous individuals seriously injured after being shot with rubber bullets and chased from their homes in Mato Grosso do Sul.

Bolsonaro’s political movement should be taken extremely seriously as an effort to govern through fear, crime, and disorder, a climate exacerbated by his

policies and incitements. The question of whether extrajudicial violence is effectively prosecuted by the state will determine whether or not Bolsonaro can carry out his political project under democratic auspices. If illegal assassination by armed militias or citizen vigilantes becomes sanctioned and encouraged, it allows Bolsonaro to benefit from an exterminated and terrorized opposition while also proclaiming innocence, avoiding dirtying the hands of state security agents directly, and the associated accusations of authoritarianism. It is precisely for this reason that the case of Marielle Franco has become a litmus test for the legitimacy of Brazilian democracy.

By all indications, the groups targeted by Bolsonaro will not go quietly. The day after her execution, tens of thousands of protestors blocked major urban arteries across Brazil as they marched in anguish and outrage, expressed in the screams of a black woman from Maré: “They will have to swallow Marielle!! They will have to swallow all of us!!”. Written on placards was a prophetic promise: “We are seeds! Marielle is present!”. Marielle’s seeds have since borne fruit: rather than “cleansing” political institutions of black opposition, her assassination became a call to action, converting her into a powerful symbol of resistance which galvanized the opposition and inspired a new generation of leaders to rise. What began as meetings, discussions, and protests in the aftermath of her death has translated into an unprecedented surge of black, indigenous, female, and LGBT candidates winning elected offices at the local, state, and federal levels. They have taken up Marielle’s banner of defending vulnerable populations, combatting institutionalized racism, and occupying and transforming spaces of decision- making from top to bottom. Bolsonaro’s political project is now confronted by a multitude of dissenting voices and diverging visions emphasizing dialogue, pluralism, equity, and inclusion. The world is watching to see if Bolsonaro and his movement will keep their promise to silence them with brutal violence or if Brazilian democracy will prevail.

Corey Mengual is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at UCLA.

Featured Article: Toward a Sociology of Dispossession

By Michael Levien

Land dispossession is not new, but has become increasingly contentious in many countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While dispossession of land and natural resources was an integral component of colonialism, post-colonial states also dispossessed tens of millions of people for “development”—most significantly, for large dams. This dispossession, commonly referred to as “development-induced displacement,” typically impoverished the dispossessed and entailed severe human rights abuses that were ignored by international funders like the World Bank. Most sociologists of development also did not seem to notice this underside of the “developmental state.” By the 1980s, however, powerful social movements against dams in India, Brazil, and elsewhere eventually put the issue on the agenda of development institutions and scholars. Applied sociologists formulated best practices for “resettlement and rehabilitation,” while critical social scientists critiqued the “high modernism” of state-led development and elaborated on social movement alternatives.

Just when such critiques began to register, state-led development gave way to neoliberalism. Although there has been much debate in recent years on the utility of the term, we still have no better one to capture the ideas and policies that—with significant variation in timing, speed, and character and interacting with diverse institutional environments—transformed the vast majority of the world from the 1980s onwards. Give neoliberalism’s emphasis on privatization over public ownership and planning, and its tendency to unleash speculative land booms, these transformations began to register in new forms of dispossession and, consequently, new waves of protests. No longer arrayed against public sector

dams and infrastructure projects, new generations of protests emerged against dispossession for Special Economic Zones (SEZs), urban expansion, transnational farmland investments, and privatized industry, extraction, and infrastructure of various kinds. Very large private farmland acquisitions in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia—many by Western investment banks—made “land grabs” a household term during the 2000s, putting it on the agenda of international institutions and NGOs. In China, breakneck growth and urbanization was meanwhile creating escalating conflicts over land, turning land grabs into the single largest source of rural “mass incidents.” In India, the last decade and a half has seen widespread farmer protests— popularly dubbed “land wars”—against various new economic projects like SEZs. Unlike the older struggles against large dams, these have actually succeeded in stopping many large investments and made the issue electorally salient for the first time.

This heightened contentiousness of land dispossession has generated a boom in land grab scholarship. Although most of this work remains in disciplines like anthropology, geography, and development studies, sociologists have increasingly brought their distinct disciplinary approach to the phenomenon. Madeleine Fairbairn (2014), for instance, has drawn on impressive research among western farmland investors to illuminate the drivers of the recent surge in transnational farmland investment, advancing our understanding of financialization in the process. Julia Chuang (2015), through long term fieldwork in rural China, shows how land dispossession for the “new socialist countryside” impoverishes peasant-workers, and threatens China’s model of migrant labor-fueled industrialization. Both have highly anticipated books to watch out for in 2019. While I have focused here on rural land dispossession, important recent work by Keisha-Khan Perry and Zachary Levenson have given us new insights into processes of urban dispossession outside of the US, in Brazil and South Africa respectively. Perry’s book Black Women Against the Land Grab (2013) shows how racism and real estate speculation combine to target black communities with eviction for urban redevelopment in the city of Salvador, and highlights the leading role of black women in resisting these land grabs. Levenson’s (2018) work shows how temporary housing provision in Cape Town itself serves as a form of dispossession, reproducing racial segregation in post-apartheid South Africa.

My own work has focused on showing how the shift from state-led development to neoliberalism has transformed the character of land dispossession in India. In Dispossession without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India (2018), I explain why states became land brokers for private real estate capital following the country’s liberalization in the 1990s, and show the consequences of this transformation for farmers and for anti-dispossession politics. This shift in what I call regimes of dispossession reached scale during the 2000s with the large- scale dispossession of farmland for private Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which became major outlets for speculative real estate investment and tax havens for India’s famous “knowledge economy.” Drawing on long-term ethnography in “Rajpura,” a village dispossessed for one of North India’s largest SEZs, the book illuminates the exclusionary consequences of dispossession under this new regime, including the destruction of agricultural livelihoods, the marginalization and precarious employment of rural labor, the exclusionary logic of privatized infrastructure, and the dramatic amplification of class, caste, and gender inequality through real estate speculation. The book argues that decreasingly developmental growth underlies India’s increasingly contentious land politics. While grounded in Indian specificities, it argues more broadly that we should disencumber ourselves from theories that render dispossession a necessary cost of development (modernization theory), a necessary stage in the development of capitalism (orthodox Marxism), or simply the

predation of subalterns by capital (Harvey). It argues for a sociology of dispossession that is shorn of both uncritical modernism and agrarian romanticism, and attentive to the interaction between distinct regimes of dispossession and highly variable but generally unequal agrarian social structures.

There is evidently much variation in the drivers, consequences, and politics of dispossession across the world today, which poses many important questions. Why do the prevailing forms of land dispossession look different today in Brazil than India? What are the similarities and differences between urban and rural dispossession? Why, in some countries, are some land- consuming projects contested but not others? Why does opposition to dispossession, when it emerges, take different ideological and programmatic forms? Why do farmers succeed in stopping their dispossession in some contexts but not others? When they fail, how and why do the outcomes of dispossession for economic development and inequality—in all its dimensions— vary? Explaining such variation constitutes a major research program, to which sociologists are well- placed to contribute. Given the greater attentiveness of other disciplines towards the issue, we should do so with humility and make sure to familiarize ourselves with the significant amount of scholarship that already exists on dispossession in other disciplines and countries. However, sociologists also bring theoretical and methodological skills, including an interest in comparison, that uniquely position us to illuminate the dynamics of dispossession in the 21st century.

Michael Levien is assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University

Featured Article: “Democracy and Racialized Violence: What Does it Mean to ‘reform” the Penal State?”

By Maria-Fátima Santos

“You can’t fix something that was never broken to begin with,” said Cat Brooks, when connecting the function of policing and incarceration in the U.S. to maintaining “race-based capitalism.” Brooks, co-founder of the Anti- Police Terror Project and executive director of the Justice Teams Network, spoke these words on a recent panel organized at the University of California, Berkeley. Together in conversation with Brooks was Andreia Beatriz, co-founder of the grassroots community action group Reaja ou Será Morto/a (React or Die), which organizes nation-wide actions against widespread police brutality, mass killings and incarceration of poor and black communities in Brazil. One of the central themes of this engagement was discussion of the risks of reducing the problem of police violence, hyper-selective incarceration, and terror against black communities to one that could be “fixed” by technical administrative measures and reforms. How is penal “reform” to be understood when policing institutions, in countries such as Brazil and the U.S., had historical beginnings directly linked to the patrolling of black slaves, repression of rebellion, and the killing and taking over lands of maroon and indigenous communities? What are the political and market structures that different permutations of this deeply entrenched logic of anti-black violence have functioned to sustain?

In this addition to the newsletter, I highlight the significance of these questions for scholarship on human rights, social inequality, violence, and democracy. I do so by discussing some of the main threads in my current research on criminal justice reforms presently underway in Brazil and their relationship to the racialized dimensions of Brazilian penality.

Over the past three decades, a central concern of national and international human rights organizations

has been Brazil’s soaring rates of violence, impunity for widespread police brutality and torture, and large numbers of arrestees being held in confinement indefinitely within gruesomely overcrowded police stations and jails (Human Rights Watch 1990, 2017). These concerns have been inextricably linked to systematic corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and the weak administrative capacity of Brazil’s courts. Human rights groups, policy reformers, bureaucrats, and legal scholars have highlighted these institutional “failures” as central and persistent obstacles to “substantive democratic consolidation” and advance of “rule of law” (IDDD 2015).

While much has been made of the persistent failures of the Brazilian courts, notably less attention has been paid to sweeping reforms currently underway. Since the 1990s, Brazil and the majority of other Latin American countries, have undergone the deepest transformation in criminal justice institutions and procedures in nearly two centuries, driven by concerns of accountability and “due process.” Legal scholars and reformers have hailed these initiatives as crucial advances for increasing “access to justice” and the “democratization of criminal justice” (Langer 2007). However, situating these initiatives in relation to the racialized dynamics of penality in Brazil presents crucial dimensions for understanding the relationship between criminal justice systems and democracy.

Over the same three decades that Brazil has undergone significant criminal justice reforms, the country has seen an unprecedented incarceration boom. Since Brazil’s return to electoral democracy at the end of the 1980s, soaring rates of violence have driven individuals of all economic strata to push for tougher responses to violent and non-violent crime. Under such conditions, expanding policing, judicial, and carceral institutions have functioned as a key legitimizing strategies for state authorities across political lines (Wacquant 2008; Ghiringhelli de Azevedo 2015). Reaching a rate of 325 per 100,000 inhabitants, the inmate population has increased eight-fold, jumping from 88,000 in 1988 to

689,000 in 2018—the largest in Latin America and third largest in the world (surpassed only by the U.S. and China) (World Prison Brief 2018). The enforcement of anti-narcotics legislation in particular has played a central role in justifying the expansion and militarization of the penal arm of the state, while selectively orienting this punitive power towards poor and black communities in the name of “public security” (Franco 2014; Alves 2018). Yet black Brazilians are those most directly impacted by pervasive violence in the region. In 2016, the homicide rate for black Brazilians was over 40 per 100 thousand inhabitants, 2.5 times higher than the rate for their white counterparts (16 per 100 thousand). Between 2006 and 2016, over the same decade that militarized police forces saw their greatest expansion, the homicide rate for non-black Brazilians actually decreased by 6.8 percent, while the rate for black and pardo Brazilians increased by over 23 percent, while for non-blacks the rate actually decreased by 6.8 percent (Forum Brasileiro de Segurança 2018).

The racialized dimensions of Brazil’s unprecedented incarceration boom and soaring violence over the past three decades points to the complex and pernicious relationship between anti-black violence and democracy (Reis 2006; Smith 2016; Alves 2018). The models for institutional and procedural reforms in Brazil have been shaped by a confluence of local and international interests in economic development, the homogenization of global crime control mechanisms, and advance of principles of “rule of law” (Langer 2007; Santos 2014). Examining the on- the- ground workings of judicial and penal institutions is crucial to critically analyzing the ways in which reform initiatives (1) enhance access to state power for populations that have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised by it and (2) function to sustain inequalities and legitimize state power.

State institutions regulate, control, and kill in their organization of societies, the defining of citizenship and legitimizing of state power. The dialogue between Cat Brooks and Andreia Beatriz at UC Berkeley was an opportunity to probe further in understanding the common roots and logics of anti-black state violence in Brazil and the U.S.—homes to the two largest black populations outside the continent of Africa, countries that confine two of the largest incarcerated populations in the world, with the percentage of those behind bars being disproportionately black. Such forms of cross-national engagement place into especially clear view the limitations of administrative and procedural “solutions” to the reality of state violence and terror against ethno-racially and other socially marginalized communities.

This panel on the policing and carceral state was organized as part of a symposium on Anti-Black State Violence Across the Americas: Power and Struggle in Brazil and the U.S. held at UC Berkeley (February 20-22, 2019). Over the course of the three days of this historic event, some of the most influential Black scholars, scholar-activists, and organizers engaged in dialogue about forms of anti- black forms of state violence and the means of contesting them from several vantage points. The symposium served as a critical venue for facilitating learning, fostering transnational coalitions, and generating new pathways for scholarship. The event’s closing plenary panel engaged questions of the relationship between anti-black state violence, struggle, and democracy. Understanding anti-black racism, its intersections with other lines of social division and marginalization, are crucial to examining the functions, promises, and “fragilities” of democracy. Black movements in both countries have long been engaged in the dynamic process of imagining the promise of democratic institutions, while questioning and challenging the very notion of “democracy” itself (Paschel 2016). As right-wing populist governments have come to power in both countries and put into question the future of democracy itself, black movement leaders provoked a different question: should the concept of democracy be redeemed …or abandoned all together?

Maria-Fátima Santos is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory

New Research in Human Rights

Roberts, Louisa L. Forthcoming. “Changing Worldwide Attitudes toward Homosexuality: The Influence of Global and Region-Specific Cultures, 1981-2012.”Social Science Research. (

Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror
By Saher Selod
Rutgers University Press

The declaration of a “War on Terror” in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought sweeping changes to the American criminal justice and national security systems, as well as a massive shift in the American public opinion of both individual Muslims and the Islamic religion generally. Since that time, sociologist Saher Selod argues, Muslim Americans have experienced higher levels of racism in their everyday lives. In Forever Suspect, Selod shows how a specific American religious identity has acquired racial meanings, resulting in the hyper surveillance of Muslim citizens. Drawing on forty- eight in-depth interviews with South Asian and Arab Muslim Americans, she investigates how Muslim Americans are subjected to racialized surveillance in both an institutional context by the state and a social context by their neighbors and co- workers. Forever Suspect underscores how this newly racialized religious identity changes the social location of Arabs and South Asians on the racial hierarchy further away from whiteness and compromises their status as American citizens.

Seeking Rights from the Left
Gender, Sexuality, and the Latin American Pink Tide
Elisabeth Jay Friedman
Duke University Press

Seeking Rights from the Left offers a unique comparative assessment of left-leaning Latin American governments by examining their engagement with feminist, women’s, and LGBT movements and issues. Focusing on the “Pink Tide” in eight national cases—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela—the contributors evaluate how the Left addressed gender- and sexuality-based rights through the state. Most of these governments improved the basic conditions of poor women and their families. Many significantly advanced women’s representation in national legislatures. Some legalized same-sex relationships and enabled their citizens to claim their own gender identity. They also opened opportunities for feminist and LGBT movements to press forward their demands. But at the same time, these governments have largely relied on heteropatriarchal relations of power, ignoring or rejecting the more challenging elements of a social agenda and engaging in strategic trade-offs among gender and sexual rights. Moreover, the comparative examination of such rights arenas reveals that the Left’s more general political and economic projects have been profoundly, if at times unintentionally, informed by traditional understandings of gender and sexuality.

Contributors: Sonia E. Alvarez, María Constanza Diaz, Rachel Elfenbein, Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Niki Johnson, Victoria Keller, Edurne Larracoechea Bohigas, Amy Lind, Marlise Matos, Shawnna Mullenax, Ana Laura Rodríguez Gustá, Diego Sempol, Constanza Tabbush, Gwynn Thomas, Catalina Trebisacce, Annie Wilkinson

The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy
Michael G. Hanchard Princeton University Press

As right-wing nationalism and authoritarian populism gain momentum across the world, liberals, and even some conservatives, worry that democratic principles are under threat. In The Spectre of Race, Michael Hanchard argues that the current rise in xenophobia and racist rhetoric is

nothing new and that exclusionary policies have always been central to democratic practices since their beginnings in classical times. Contending that democracy has never been for all people, Hanchard discusses how marginalization is reinforced in modern politics, and why these contradictions need to be fully examined if the dynamics of democracy are to be truly understood.

Hanchard identifies continuities of discriminatory citizenship from classical Athens to the present and looks at how democratic institutions have promoted undemocratic ideas and practices. The longest- standing modern democracies–France, Britain, and the United States—profited from slave labor, empire, and colonialism, much like their Athenian predecessor. Hanchard follows these patterns through the Enlightenment and to the states and political thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and he examines how early political scientists, including Woodrow Wilson and his contemporaries, devised what Hanchard has characterized as “racial regimes” to maintain the political and economic privileges of dominant groups at the expense of subordinated ones. Exploring how democracies reconcile political inequality and equality, Hanchard debates the thorny question of the conditions under which democracies have created and maintained barriers to political membership.

Showing the ways that race, gender, nationality, and other criteria have determined a person’s status in political life, The Spectre of Race offers important historical context for how democracy generates political difference and inequality.

Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)
Lindsey O’Rourke Cornell University Press

States seldom resort to war to overthrow their adversaries. They are more likely to attempt to covertly change the opposing regime, by assassinating a foreign leader, sponsoring a coup d’état, meddling in a democratic election, or secretly aiding foreign dissident groups.

In Covert Regime Change, Lindsey A. O’Rourke shows us how states really act when trying to overthrow another state. She argues that conventional focus on overt cases misses the basic causes of regime change. O’Rourke provides substantive evidence of types of security interests that drive states to intervene. Offensive operations aim to overthrow a current military rival or break up a rival alliance. Preventive operations seek to stop a state from taking certain actions, such as joining a rival alliance, that may make them a future security threat. Hegemonic operations try to maintain a hierarchical relationship between the intervening state and the target government. Despite the prevalence of covert attempts at regime change, most operations fail to remain covert and spark blowback in unanticipated ways.

Covert Regime Change assembles an original dataset of all American regime change operations during the Cold War. This fund of information shows the United States was ten times more likely to try covert rather than overt regime change during the Cold War. Her dataset allows O’Rourke to address three foundational questions: What motivates states to attempt foreign regime change? Why do states prefer to conduct these operations covertly rather than overtly? How successful are such missions in achieving their foreign policy goals?

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland
Jonathan M. Metzl Basic Books

In the era of Donald Trump, many lower- and middle-class white Americans are drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as Dying of Whiteness shows, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death.

Physician Jonathan M. Metzl’s quest to understand the health implications of “backlash governance” leads him across America’s heartland. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, he examines how racial resentment has fueled progun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. And he shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise.

The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America
Greg Grandin Metropolitan Books

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation―democratic, individualistic, forward- looking. Today, though, America hasa new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history―from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America’s constant expansion―fighting wars and opening markets―served as a “gate of escape,” helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country’s problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home.

Migrant Crossings: Witnessing Human Trafficking in the United States
By Annie Isabel Fukushima Stanford University Press

Migrant Crossings examines the experiences and representations of Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficked in the United States into informal economies and service industries. Through sociolegal and media analysis of court records, press releases, law enforcement campaigns, film representations, theatre performances, and the law, Annie Isabel Fukushima questions how we understand victimhood, criminality, citizenship, and legality.

Fukushima examines how migrants legally cross into visibility, through frames of citizenship, and narratives of victimhood. She explores the interdisciplinary framing of the role of the law and the legal system, the notion of “perfect victimhood”, and iconic victims, and how trafficking subjects are resurrected for contemporary movements as illustrated in visuals, discourse, court records, and policy. Migrant Crossings deeply interrogates what it means to bear witness to migration in these migratory times—and what such migrant crossings mean for subjects who experience violence during or after their crossing.

About the author Annie Isabel Fukushima is Assistant Professor in the Ethnic Studies Division in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation at the University of Utah.

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Follow the ASA Section on Human Rights

Dear ASA Section on Human Rights,

To continue to maintain a lively section, announcements, job postings, and our section newsletter will be sent to our members on a monthly basis. Per the chair’s message (Brian Gran) in our fall 2018 newsletter, any announcements to the section must be sent to the chair (Brian Gran) and secretary/treasurer (Annie Isabel Fukushima): and

We encourage our members to:

Follow the Section on Human Rights Facebook:
Check out our section website:
Find monthly updates from the chair on our section list-serv.

For any other announcements and list-serv communities, we encourage folks to join these list-servs (Contact these list-servs directly as they have different administrators): and

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ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter, Fall 2018

Downloadable PDF: ASASectiononHumanRights_Fall2018Newsletter

­Table of Contents

A Message from the Chair

Message from Editors of the Spring 2019 ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter


2018 The Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

2018 Best Scholarly Article

2018 Graduate Student Paper Award


Academic Lessons from Outreach by Brooke Chambers


Publications, Announcements, and Save the Date

Newsletter submission information

A Message from the Chair

Chair’s Column

Human rights are front and center in new and ongoing debates taking place across the world. From hostility to refugees and migrants, to armed conflict and violence, to deprivation and starvation, to growing disparities in health and access to health care, to government failure and corruption, the scholarship of sociologists who work on human rights is making differences. Students intensely desire to learn from sociologists about the meanings, utilities, and frameworks of human rights. Do human rights matter? Do they matter on university campuses? Do they matter where we work and live? Sociology of human rights demonstrates we can learn from the past as we contribute tackling questions about speech, beliefs, institutions, and inequalities. Sociologists are raising crucial questions for human rights concepts and practices.

Members of this Human Rights Section are at the forefront of this scholarship. The foundational work of Du Bois, Addams, and others reveals that human rights are at the root of Sociology. The Section is taking the lead in supporting sociologists who are studying and teaching human rights. Many of our members are performing services that advance the scholarship of human rights. While we celebrate accomplishments, I hope the Section can continue to foster sociology of human rights for members, the ASA, and for sociologists and students across the world.

Over this academic year and leading up to the 2019 annual meeting of the ASA, the Human Rights Section will work intently to build membership as it continues to identify and meet the needs and goals of the Section and its members. If you have suggestions or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Brian Gran


Thank you

On behalf of the Human Rights Section, I want to thank the officers who completed their terms during the 2018 annual ASA meeting. Thank you to Kiyo Tsutsui for his leadership as Chair. Kiyo advanced the Section’s interests in many ways, including financially and its relationship with other Sections. We are grateful to Vivian Shaw for her contributions as Student Representative to the Section. The Section thanks David Embrick, Elizabeth (Liz) Heger Boyle, and Lindsey Peterson for their service to the Section as Council members. As you know, Liz is the Section’s Chair Elect.

During the 2018 annual meeting, the Section welcomed Tianna Paschel and Hollie Nyseth Brehm as new Council members and Jeff Swindle as new Student Representative. Thank you for their commitment to the Section. We are grateful for their leadership.

I especially want to thank Annie Isabel Fukushima for her continuing service and leadership as the Section’s Secretary-Treasurer. This office is crucial to the Section’s health and future, and Annie has consistently exceeded the position’s responsibilities. Her service is a major reason for the Section’s vitality and growth. The Section owes a great deal to Annie.

The Section’s Newsletter

I want to thank Annie and Hollie for their dedication and significant contributions as the Section’s Newsletter Editors. The Section’s Newsletter is terrific! I am sure everyone would agree it is the best of all the ASA Sections’ newsletters. I also want to express gratitude to Annie for her work as the Section’s website Editor. The Section is very fortunate to enjoy the significant commitment and contributions of so many hard-working and brilliant sociologists.

The Human Rights Section welcomes Tianna Paschel and Tim Gill as the next Newsletter Editors. Tianna and Tim will start as Newsletter Editors with the next Newsletter. Please make sure to read their contribution to this Newsletter!

2018-2019 Committees

 Several Section members have agreed to contribute to the Human Rights Sections as members of committees. These committees do a great deal of work over the year leading up to the 2019 annual ASA meeting. The Section is grateful for their service and leadership.

NominationsKiyo Tsutsui will chair this committee. Joachim Savelsberg will serve on the committee, as well as an additional Section member.

MembershipClaudia Lopez will chair this committee. Liz Boyle and I plus six other Section members will serve on this committee.

Book awardChristopher Roberts will chair this committee, with two other Section members joining him.

Article awardRobin Stryker will chair this committee, with two other Section members joining her.

Student paper awardJames Mahoney of Northwestern University will chair this committee. David Frank and Tianna Paschel will serve on this committee.

Program committeeLiz Boyle, as Chair-Elect, and I will serve on this committee.

Mentoring committee: The Section has established a Mentoring Committee, which Brooke Chambers and Jeffrey Swindle are co-chairing.

2019 annual ASA meeting

The Human Rights Section will host two sessions during the 2019 annual ASA meeting. The Human Rights Section will hold the session, “Innovations in Sociology of Human Rights: New Challenges and New Questions.” Jamie Small is organizer. The Section will hold a joint session with Comparative-Historical Section: “Comparative Historical Sociology and Human Rights.” Matthias Koenig is the organizer. These sessions will probably take place on Saturday, August 10.

The Human Rights Section will probably hold its Council and Business meetings on Saturday, August 10. In addition, the Section will hold a reception with the Comparative-Historical and Political Sociology Sections on Saturday, August 10.

Across the 2019 annual meeting, several sessions will concentrate on human rights, including Special Sessions, Thematic Sessions, and Presidential Sessions.

UN Observer Status 

During the 2018 Business Meeting of the Human Rights Section, the possibility of establishing UN Observer Status for the Section was discussed. I contacted ASA leadership and learned that the ASA will not allow the Section to set up this status on its own. Instead, the Human Rights Section is working with ASA leadership to establish UN Observer Status for the entire ASA and its members. Liz Boyle and I are working with the ASA to establish this status.

Sociology Action Network

 The Section is working with ASA leadership on the Sociology Action Network (SAN). Information about SAN can be found here:

Briefly, the idea of SAN is to use expertise of sociologists to advance goals of civil society organizations that can bring about meaningful change. SAN will connect sociologists who want to volunteer their expertise to civil society organizations that will benefit from that expertise. The ASA will play a facilitator role of establishing partnerships. For more information, please visit the ASA website. It is hoped and expected that members of the Human Rights Section can provide useful support to SAN.

On posting to the Human Rights Section’s Listserv

To post to the Human Rights Section’s ASA listserv, please contact Annie Isabel Fukushima at or Brian Gran at Brian.Gran@Case.Edu.

Message from Editors of the Spring 2019 ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter

Introducing Tim Gill and Tianna Paschel
Newsletter Editors starting 2019 Spring

We are both very excited to begin our work on the section’s newsletter. Tim Gill is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, and his research has primarily focused on U.S. democracy promotion in contemporary Venezuela and the Venezuelan government’s response to these efforts. He is the author of a forthcoming edited volume looking at U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere under Trump, titled The Future of U.S. Empire in the Americas: The Trump Administration and Beyond. Tianna S. Paschel is associate professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of California -Berkeley. Her research explores the relationship between racial ideology, politics, and globalization in Latin America. She is the author of the book, Becoming Black Political Subjects, which draws on ethnographic and archival methods to explore the shift in the 1990s from ideas of unmarked universal citizenship to multicultural citizenship regimes and the recognition of specific rights for black populations by Latin American states. We plan to continue providing you with excellent and relevant content in much the same way that Annie and Hollie have. We have many ideas for timely discussions to feature in our upcoming newsletters, and we hope that you might consider contributing.

For the spring newsletter, “Fragile Democracies,” we invite contributions that look at human rights in the era of right-wing populism, and the politicization of the judiciary in countries around the world. We hope that submissions will examine the impact of this swing to the right on legal protections for citizens and those living within and between national borders. We also would like pieces that critically reflect on human rights mobilization in this critical political moment, as well as historical pieces that give us insights into the present. Ultimately, we hope these contributions will move beyond a focus on the state of political discourse and move toward an examination of the actual policies implemented by right-wing governments, as well as the social movements that have challenged them. We encourage contributions on cases from around the world, and we also hope that this newsletter will generate a productive cross-national dialogue that includes reflections on the United States.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please send them to both Tianna ( and Tim (

Tim Gill
Tianna Paschel


2018 The Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

by David Cunningham

The Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award committee was pleased to consider a strong slate of eleven nominees for this year’s award. While a number of those books merit recognition, the committee unanimously selected Ya-Wen Lei as the 2018 award recipient, for her book The Contentious Public Sphere: Law, Media, & Authoritarian Rule in China (Princeton University Press, 2018). Lei’s book is concerned with a critical puzzle: how, in the face of ongoing state censorship and repression, a vibrant civil sphere has developed over the past decade to effectively challenge the Chinese state. Marshaling an ambitious range of data (encompassing multiple national surveys, decades of newspaper accounts, reams of extracted online text, and 160 in-depth interviews), Lei’s historical analysis locates the rise of China’s contentious public sphere as an unintended effect of the authoritarian state’s modernization project initiated in the mid-2000s. Identifying and linking processes in the media and legal fields, Lei is attentive to the actions and collaborations of diverse constituencies — from state officials to activists, media professionals, peasants, students and other “netizens.” Her analysis offers an elegant and sophisticated roadmap to understand China’s ongoing political, cultural, and social transformations, as well as a powerful framework to predict the future of its unruly public sphere.

The committee also was highly impressed with Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick’s What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do (Columbia University Press, 2017), and is pleased to recognize this work with an honorable mention. Choi-Fitzpatrick’s engaging study operates at the intersection of social movements and human rights scholarship, developing a compelling portrait of the paternalistic perspectives of contemporary slaveholders, who, he finds, often “are respected members of their community, violating human rights but not social norms.” Drawing on 300 individual and focus-group interviews with slaveholders, laborers, community leaders, and activists in rural India, Choi-Fitzpatrick deftly elucidates the worldviews that legitimize slaveholders’ own efforts, as well as the ways in which they respond to challenges to their actions. Such concerns reside at the heart of human rights scholarship and action, offering a close look at the forces that perpetuate subjugation.

Please join us in congratulating Ya-Wen and Austin for their outstanding work, which exemplifies the high quality of the scholarship that continues to emerge out of the section. 

2018 Best Scholarly Article Award

By James Mahoney

We are pleased to announce the recipient of the 2018 ASA Human Rights Section Best Article Award:

Nicholas Pedriana, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Robin Stryker, University of Arizona for “From Legal Doctrine to Social Transformation? Comparing U.S. Voting Rights, Equal Employment Opportunity, and Fair Housing Legislation,” published with the American Journal of Sociology in July 2017.

Pedriana and Stryker focus on a major puzzle in the field of civil rights: Why was 1960s civil rights legislation in the United States most effective at securing voting rights; least effective at securing housing rights; and only partially effective at securing employment rights? The authors illustrate the shortcomings of frameworks emphasizing enforcement power, policy entrepreneurs, bureaucratic capabilities, and white resentment.

To explain the variation, Pedriana and Stryker build a new general theory that they call the “group-centered effects (GCE) framework.” They begin by recognizing that the legal system is stacked against subordinate groups that seek to achieve human rights gains. In this context, the easiest way to demonstrate discrimination is by calling attention to substantive group results. That is, GCE establishes discrimination by pointing to disparities in outcomes rather than the discriminatory processes themselves. From this perspective, voting rights legislation was more effective than employment and especially housing legislation because it focused on the equalizing results of rule changes (e.g., abolishing literacy tests) rather becoming bogged down in legal questions about whether the prior rules were inherently discriminatory in particular cases.
The committee was impressed by the originality of the theoretical framework and its ability to make sense of significant historical facts and help solve an important empirical puzzle in the field of human rights. The committee also noted that the theoretical framework has important implications for civil rights and anti-discrimination policy going forward. It suggests that civil rights advocates would do well to consider how GCE principles can be leveraged to make policy implementation more effective in the future. Rather than focus on the question of whether a process is discriminatory at the individual level, advocates might instead focus on whether changing a process will generate positive results at the group level.

This year’s prize committee was Gregory Hooks, McMaster University; James Mahoney, Northwestern University (chair); and Tianna Paschel, University of California, Berkeley.

2018 Graduate Student Paper Award

By Claudia Lopez

Good morning, I would like to begin by acknowledging and thanking LaDawn Haglund and Yan Long for their work on the award committee. It is my distinct pleasure to award the 2018 ASA Human Rights Section Best Graduate Student Paper Award to Saskia Dunkell for her paper, “Decoupling Transitional Justice: Selective Approaches for Addressing Human Rights Abuses in Colombia.” This paper examine the historical context, politics, and power struggles within a country that shift and facilitate transitional justice mechanisms. Dunkell discusses how transitional justice mechanisms are framed as an acceptable and “taken for granted” approach for addressing mass violence and argues that countries adopt these mechanisms in different uneven ways. The paper uses the concept of selective coupling to “better explain how states adopt some components of a policy that signals a commitment to a global standard, while rejecting or altering other aspects in response to national pressures.” Based on 16 months of fieldwork in Colombia, Dunkell highlights two transitional justice approaches—a justice-focused approach for paramilitaries in 2005 and an acknowledgment-focused approach for guerrillas in 2016. By highlighting these two approaches, the author is able to analyze how the state tweaks, challenges, and changes particular aspects of transitional justice mechanisms at different historical moments. Most interestingly, the paper shows how selective coupling happens not solely between countries but also within one country.

The committee selected this paper due to is significant contribution to the sociology of human rights. Methodologically, the fieldwork is impressive and the qualitative study adds depth to research on the decoupling of international human rights commitments. Theoretically, we found Dunkell’s selective coupling framework innovative and applicable in broader contexts. The paper adds to sociological theories of globalization by disputing previous research that suggests that the globalization of human rights as “a cohesive, universal, and irreversible trend.” Please join me in congratulating Saskia Dunkell.


Academic Lessons from Outreach

by Brooke Chambers

The word “outreach” inherently implies a one-way relationship. In practice, educational outreach is often presented as the chance to share academic knowledge outside of a scholarly context. It is, however, far less common to see outreach as a chance for academics themselves to learn new lessons or to reflect on their work. This has been my experience since beginning graduate school, where I have found that outreach has the potential to enrich my own research.

The idea of outreach as scholarly education began to ring true the more I became involved with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which hosts the Genocide Education Outreach (GEO) program. GEO brings graduate students into the community to present their work in non-university settings, like high schools or public libraries. This does, of course, provide a valuable service to many different community groups in the traditional sense of outreach. However, since I began coordinating the program, I have had the opportunity to reflect with other GEO presenters on the potential of outreach to impact our own research. Here, I have selected a few regular questions we have received from GEO participants and my thoughts as to how such engagement can enrich academic knowledge.

“Why do you do this work?”

Academic institutions provide a space in which to explore the theoretical and methodological “why’s” which draw scholars to their research. Why use collective memory to study memorialization? Why use post-colonial theory to understand statehood? However, outreach events focus upon a different “why”. Why do people kill their neighbors? Why did no one stop them? Participants who ask these questions are generally not looking to hear explicitly about the scholarly foundations which drive our work. They are asking for commentary about the very human nature of what we have chosen to study.

This question allows for expansion about the interpersonal moments which make the social sciences so rich, but those which may not always make it into the journal article. I treasure the chance to bring Rwanda to life for those who may only know it in the context of tragedy. Outreach allows me to highlight, for example, the human interaction behind interviews with memorial site staff or university students. I can share not only research findings, but stories I was told of family life, academic dreams, and participants’ hopes for the future of Rwanda. This allows the opportunity to dive deeply into the human experiences upon which scholarly work is grounded. Sharing these stories alongside the academic findings has helped me remember the humanness of my work and guided me in emphasizing this within my academic writing.

“Why should I care about this?”

This question arises in a variety of iterations. Some individuals wonder why they should care about global suffering while those in their own country have problems. Others may have preconceived notions of victimhood, and those we present may not fit that definition. Though sometimes this question is tinged with distrust or skepticism, it is often posed with genuine interest, or an assumption that an individual can only worry about so much at once. Outreach has asked me to defend the worthiness of my work in a moralistic sense, to advocate for the value of humans who may often be ignored or demonized. Though clearly challenging, there can be value in respectfully engaging with fundamental critics who may dismiss the value of human rights concerns. In arguing for the ethics behind the quest for knowledge of social behavior, I have developed answers to questions I had not encountered within an academic setting, adding enrichment and foundation to my scholarly arguments.

What can I do?”

Outreach events can bring forward a range of emotions for participants. They may feel motivated to encourage change, or they may be frustrated that human rights violations occur so frequently within the US and globally. Outreach often showcases a political desire to seek reform and address issues of human suffering. This reaffirms that academic knowledge is desired by those outside of universities, but it also highlights that barriers exist to broader public engagement within academic knowledge. Public engagement requires a distinct argumentative approach and a different language than that which is often used within academic spaces. But outreach also reinforces the worthiness of partnership and information-sharing outside of academic institutions. Perhaps most simply, GEO events remind me that much of the public cares about the questions that human rights scholars are asking.

These questions are just some among many which GEO presenters have discussed with each other following our events. Each time, new thoughts and reactions come forward. While providing valuable opportunities to spread scholarly knowledge, GEO events can also inspire presenters to further reflect on the humanness of their work. More broadly, outreach can spur forward academic thought, and through this, it can help to enrich research.



Check out members’ recent publications.


Berry, Marie E. War, women, and power: From violence to mobilization in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Beresford, Alexander, Marie E. Berry, and Laura Mann. “Liberation movements and stalled democratic transitions: reproducing power in Rwanda and South Africa through productive liminality.” Democratization (2018): 1-20. (

Bustamante, Juan Jose. “‘La Polimigra’: A Social Construct Behind the ‘Deportation Regime’ in the Greater Northwest Arkansas Region.” (With Eric Gamino). Humanity & Society 42(3):344- 366, 2018. doi: 10.1177/0160597617748165. Fulbright College, “OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology Faculty Award,” University of Arkansas, 2018

Hazar, Caner. 2018. “Between Secularism and Pro-Islamism: A Historical Review of LGBT Activism During the Pro-Islam JDP Rule in Turkey.” in Queer Activism After Marriage Equality, eds. DeFilippis, J.N.; Yarbrough, M.; & Jones, A.  Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Velasco, Kristopher. 2018. “Human Rights INGOs, LGBT INGOs, and LGBT Policy Diffusion, 1991 – 2015.” Social Forces 97(1):377 – 404. (winner of the 2017 Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the Human Rights Section).

Roman, David, “Communists and Their Victims: The Quest for Justice in the Czech Republic.” University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018;


Fritz, Jan Marie. Elected to the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Assn.  (2018-2022). Elected President of RC46 Clinical Sociology of the International Sociological Assn.  Organized a workshop (The Central Inclusion of Women and Girls: National Action Plans, Localization Efforts and Effective Mobilization) and gave a presentation at the 67th annual United Nations  DPI/NGO conference (August 22, 2018) at UNHQ in NYC

Save the dates: 2019 American Sociological Association conference, “Engaging Social Justice for a Better World,” August 10 – 13, 2019, New York, NY.

Newsletter Submission Information

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please send them to both Tianna ( and Tim ( Articles: Articles that highlight research, teaching, or engagement relevant to human rights.

Research Notes: Brief reflections on research studies related to human rights. Notes could focus on the methodology, the findings, the dissemination of findings, etc.

Teaching Notes: Brief reflections on teaching about human rights in undergraduate or graduate classrooms. Tips and classroom activities are especially welcome.

Grassroots Notes: Reflections, stories, and advice pertaining to engagement with local organizations, policymakers, and/or grassroots activists.

Publications and Announcements: Recently published a book, article, or paper that the human rights section members should read? Have news or an opportunity that you would like to share with the human rights community? Please send it our way!

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ASA Section on Human Rights – 2018 Conference Activities

Hope to see our members and interested members at our section events!

  • 1686 – Joint Reception: Section on Comparative-Historical Sociology; Section on History of Sociology; Section on Global and Transnational Sociology; and Section on Human Rights Sat, August 11, 6:30 to 8:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 5, Salon J 
  • 3255 – Human Rights. Mon, August 13, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Level 4, 410

  • 4124 – State Repression, Human Rights and Terror Tue, August 14, 8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113C

  • 4212 – Section on Human Rights Refereed Roundtable Session Tue, August 14, 10:30 to 11:30am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 106AB

  • 4212 – Section on Human Rights Business Meeting Tue, August 14, 11:30am to 12:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 106AB

  • 4324 – Frontiers of Human Rights Research Tue, August 14, 12:30 to 2:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113C




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Gifting Membership

Re: Give gift memberships now—Time is running out!
Dear Sociology of Human Rights Section Members,
The last day to give gift memberships to the Sociology of Human Rights section is July 31. This is an inexpensive way to support graduate students or junior colleagues interested in human rights, but low on cash. It also helps the section—if every current faculty member of the section gave just one gift membership, we would be well over the threshold to have an additional Human Rights panel at the 2019 ASA.
It’s easy to give gift memberships. Log in to the ASA website. Follow the link for gifting section memberships under Contribute/Give. The instructions are straightforward. (You can also gift regular ASA memberships to students who do not already belong to the organization).
Each student or colleague will get an email letting them know they’ve been signed up, and allowing them the opportunity to opt out.
Please act now to keep our vibrant section growing!
Yours truly,
Liz Boyle
Chair, Sociology of Human Rights Membership Committee
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