ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter, Fall 2017

IIS featured in American Sociological Association Section on Human Rights Newsletter:


Human Rights Under Siege

Table of Contents

A Message from the Editors by  Annie Isabel Fukushima & Hollie Nyseth Brehm

Notes From Your Chair: Human Rights Under Siege
Kiyoteru Tsutsui


Immigrant Rights Under Siege
Cecilia Menjivar

Charlottesville and Our Racial Faultlines
Rodney D. Coates


City-based Movements Seek to Strengthen Local Human Rights Implementation
Jackie Smith


Oral History and Civil Rights Movement: Tools to Discuss Race and Ethnicity in a Mixed Race Classroom
Melencia M. Johnson and Philip B. Mason

Women in Migration
Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects


Section Officers



On the Market




Message from the Editors 

Since we are quickly approaching one year since Trump was elected into presidency, we decided to focus the fall issue of the Human Rights Section Newsletter on human rights under siege with a particular emphasis on the current administration’s impact on human rights. The valuation of human has been clear in devaluation of certain life and access. While imperfect, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals under the Obama administration offered 800,000 young people to opportunity to work and attend school legally. Even though immigration has not been resolved in 241 years since the founding of the United States, the Trump Administration has given DACA 6 months to be phased out, and 6 months for legislatures to create a replacement.[1] Racial tensions in Charlottesville and the violent emergence of racist, white nationalists, new-nazis, the KKK, and other hate-groups in Charlottesville, was summarized as there being “blame on both sides” by Trump. The environmental catastrophes are a reflection of the state of the United States political climate today. As Hurricane Maria has left millions in need of help in Puerto Rico, the Trump Administration has consistently illustrated a lack of value for certain lives, condemning Puerto Ricans to a “slow death”[2] as described by Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. These events, of numerous events, have created national fatigue with regards to the ongoing attack on rights in the news.

As researchers, educators, and activists, we believe it is crucial for our voices to be part of ongoing dialogues regarding rights and justice throughout the U.S. and beyond. Our research can help document and explain assaults on human rights. Our classrooms can provide safe spaces for students to express concerns and theories to aid them in understanding disturbing current events. Our actions in our broader communities can help connect our research and education to practice, forging important bonds between academic institutions and the communities in which they are located.

Although there are myriad ways in which human rights are under siege, the pieces in this newsletter converge around two areas: race and immigration.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Ohio State University
Annie Isabel Fukushima, University of Utah

Notes From Your Chair: Human Rights Under Siege

by Kiyoteru Tsutsui, University of Michigan

ASA Human Rights Section Newsletter

Greetings, fellow human rights scholars! I’m honored to serve as your section chair this year and delighted that ASA has a viable section full of sociologists studying human rights. I suspect that many of you are concerned about recent political developments related to human rights. We seem to be entering a darker time for human rights, in which rising populism is eroding the liberal multilateralism that sustained the international human rights regime and hate speech is becoming a routine part of our political discourse. Human rights are under siege, and as concerned citizens, our instinct is to do something to counter the siege. As social scientists, what insights can we offer that would help the public make informed judgments about what is at stake and what needs to be done? Social scientific research on human rights has come a long way, and it can offer some valuable insights for the concerned public.

Even before 2016, various scholars offered pessimism about the international human rights regime, making pronouncements about the “endtimes” or the “twilight” of human rights. They argued that the international regime is not capable of addressing the most serious human rights violations; it is dominated by western interests and is a puppet of powerful nations; and it has too many bodies that only increase paperwork and do not have any impact on actual practices. For them, a radical reorganization of the regime was the only way forward.

While agreeing with some of the criticisms, many others stopped short of giving up on the regime, pointing to the empowering capacity of human rights treaties and slow but steady improvements that the regime has enabled. They document how the global diffusion of human rights ideas empowered vulnerable populations and how international instruments and transnational activists facilitated their activism, leading to better human rights practices in many parts of the world. While the improvement is often small and takes too long, these scholars valued the long-term promise of the regime.

I tend to side with the second group of scholars. After several decades of global expansion, human rights principles have spread to enough corners of the world and inspired local mobilizations for rights. While international instruments might become even less effective in the coming years, the institutional foundations are still strong, and their naming and shaming activities will continue. To the extent local efforts do not wane, there’s still hope for some improvements.

Let me introduce an example to make the case for this view. I recently had a chance to welcome a speaker from Pakistan to a conference at my university—

Zainab Malik, who is a lead lawyer at an NGO called Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). The JPP’s main work is to help vulnerable populations that are said to constitute 60% of death row inmates in Pakistan. Following a Taliban terrorist attack on an elementary school in December 2014, the new Pakistani government reinstated the death penalty in the face of public pressure to take some kind of counter-terrorism action. In 2015, the Pakistani government executed 332 individuals, less than 10% of whom were involved in terrorism-related crimes. Furthermore, many of the death row inmates were the most vulnerable populations—juvenile offenders, the mentally infirm, the indigents, and so on—and 60% of them are said to be innocent. Alarmed by this situation, the JPP embarked on a campaign to make some changes. The monitoring bodies of the key international human rights treaties were critical for their success.

Back in 2010, Pakistan ratified 27 human rights related treaties in order to demonstrate to the EU that it is committed to human rights principles and is worthy of the trade agreement with the EU. For a while, the government didn’t even submit periodical reports to the monitoring bodies, demonstrating a lip service behavior typical of governments with questionable human rights practices. The JPP first pushed the Pakistani government to submit reports by leveraging pressures from the EU. Caving to the threat of losing the trade agreement with the EU, the Pakistani government submitted a pro forma two-page report to all the key monitoring bodies on the same day. That set up a series of reviews at the monitoring bodies from 2016 to 2017. Leading up to those reviews, the JPP and other NGOs submitted shadow reports pointing to a huge spike in the death penalty and the serious flaws in the criminal justice system in Pakistan. Armed with that information, the monitoring bodies grilled Pakistani government representatives. For the first couple of reviews (Committee on the Rights of the Child and Committee Against Torture), they simply stormed out of the room when these issues were brought up. Unfortunately for them, they had many more monitoring bodies to go through. Needing to demonstrate an improvement at the next monitoring body, the government reduced the death penalty to 88 executions in 2016 and 56 so far in 2017. Though skeptical at the beginning, Zainab Malik is now convinced that this series of reviews at various international human rights bodies—not just treaty monitoring bodies but also the UPR at the Human Rights Council and the EU GSP+ mechanism—prompted the government to make those improvements.

To be sure, more needs to be done to reduce the death penalty in Pakistan specifically and to make the international regime more effective generally. Nonetheless, in the current political climate, it is all the more important for us to examine the capacity of the regime and offer realistic solutions to its problems. The regime is facing strong headwinds, but its institutional scaffoldings seem strong enough to withstand the challenges. Support from civil society actors across the globe is ever more critical. Fortunately, all the global promotional activities for human rights in the last few decades have empowered many local actors into human rights activism, producing inspired and effective local leaders like Zainab Malik. Therein lies a hope for the future of human rights.


Immigrant Rights Under Siege

by Cecilia Menjívar, University of Kansas 

A Guatemalan worker caught in the 2008 Postville, Iowa raid insisted that he “had no rights.” According to the interpreter in the legal case that followed (Caymard-Freixas 2009), the lawyer representing this worker along with 400 others caught in the same raid tried to convince him that he actually had rights as a worker. However, the Guatemalan immigrant kept saying, “I’m illegal, I have no rights. I’m nobody in this country. Just do whatever you want with me” (Preston 2008). As we argued in our piece on legal violence (Menjívar and Abrego 2012: 1404), “this man had internalized the violence and devaluation that come from the implementation of the law by accepting and confirming his own self-depreciation. Identifying himself entirely by his ‘illegal’ status, he conformed to the notion that he has ‘no rights.’”

Indeed, the immigration enforcement regime today, which casts a wide net by making it increasingly possible for immigrants to have encounters with enforcement authorities, creates conditions for immigrants in various legal statuses to believe that they have “no rights.” The deportability of not only undocumented immigrants but increasingly of lawful permanent residents (the so-called ‘green’ card holders); the daily fear and risk of detection, detention, and deportation; and the spillover effects all this has on families and communities create conditions for immigrants to feel unwanted, devalued, and consequently believe that they lack basic rights, even the “right to have rights” in Arendt’s (1994) formulation. Under such conditions, immigrants are less likely to demand fair treatment in the workplace, to be paid on time, to get law-mandated breaks during the workday, and to request treatment for an injury suffered on the job. They are also less likely to complain to a landlord about dilapidated conditions in rented housing, to contest arbitrary raises in rents, and to appeal evictions. They are also less likely to contact institutions to obtain a service to which they have a right, to file a complaint, or to advocate for themselves and their families, even when those family members are U.S.-born and presumably have full membership rights.

Immigrants and their families contribute vibrantly to their communities, institutions, and to the economy of the country. But the expanded enforcement regime that criminalizes an increasing range of behaviors and practices associated with immigrants and, under the new administration even undocumented immigrants’ very existence, combined with significantly narrow paths to legalization creates a context where immigrant rights are eroded and their membership subverted. A rather schizophrenic situation is created: immigrants’ contributions are valued as necessary (and are vital in many respects), but as members of society they are devalued; their rights, which should come from living and working in the country, are undermined.

What kind of society is this enforcement regime creating? What does the future of U.S. society look like when an increasing number of individuals are forced to live with such truncated forms of membership? Is the condition of immigrants’ rights today simply exposing the contractions of a liberal democracy?

In no way do I argue that legal status automatically grants rights and that all groups will exercise them automatically and equally by virtue of holding a secure legal status or even citizenship; the experiences of U.S. minorities amply exemplifies otherwise. Many U.S.-born Latinos, for instance, faced with structural constraints and racism, often do not feel like ‘real’ Americans; their sense of belonging (and accompanying rights) is undermined (Flores-González 2017). Their experiences make it clear that citizenship is more than legal status and encompasses rights and membership. And when immigration enforcement is predicated on the criminalization of certain groups of immigrants, like Latinos, there are significant spillover effects that encompass individuals who belong to the same targeted group, even to those who possess more secure legal statuses or even citizenship by birth.

At the same time, under the current enforcement regime, an uncertain legal status (undocumented but also statuses that are temporary and by definition vulnerable) puts immigrants at a particular disadvantage because of the risk of removal they face daily. This condition of “illegality” shapes immigrants’ interactions with institutions in society as their very personhood has been reshaped and transformed under the constant threat of removal and generalized legal uncertainty. While living in these spaces, they are exposed to messages about whom the government will reward (presumably with legal status), the “deserving” migrants while migrants perceived as underserving are removed, and thus they also learn the discipline to comport to such expectations (see Menjívar and Lakhani 2016). Not surprisingly, in recent work that disentangles citizenship and rights, Bloemraad, Sarabia and Fillingim (2017) find that Mexican-origin immigrants in their study understood citizenship as primarily respecting the law and staying out of trouble and in general demonstrating ‘good moral character’; these immigrants did not associate citizenship with political voice or the exercise of rights.

But today’s situation has generated renewed energy in the exercise of “citizenship acts,” that is, activities that signal the political presence of a group through certain political acts (Bloemraad, Sarabia and Fillingim 2017). For instance, lawyers have come forward to coordinate pro bono work to protect immigrant rights formally in the justice system, defending immigrants in courts and against unjustified bans and assisting in asylum cases. Immigrants themselves, too, have organized to respond to the onslaught on their rights, especially under the present administration. A well-known example is the DACA movement, but there are other lesser-known instances, including Temporary Protected Status holders across the country who are organizing campaigns, lobbying the U.S. Congress, and advocating for their right to remain in the country even if at this point only on a temporary, renewable basis. These political acts may not rival the power and resources of formal structures that work every day and in multiple directions to undermine immigrant rights, but they do provide courage and hope and, importantly, an infrastructure to continue this work in the future.


Arendt, Hannah. 1994. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Books.

Bloemraad, Irene, Heidi Sarabia, and Angela E. Fillingim. 2017. “Citizenship Acts: Legality, Power, and the Limits of Political Action.” Pp. 81-95 in Within and Beyond Citizenship: Borders, Membership, and Belonging, edited by Roberto G. Gonzalez and Nando Sigona. London & New York: Routledge.

Caymard-Freixas, Erik. 2009. Postville: La Criminaliación de los Migrantes. Guatemala City: F&G Editores.

Flores-González, Nilda. 2017. Citizens but Not Americans: Race and Belonging among Latino Millenials. New York: New York University Press.

Menjivar, Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy J. Abrego. 2012. “Legal Violence: Immigration Law and the Lives of Central American Immigrants.” American Journal of Sociology 117(5): 1380-1421.

Menjívar, Cecilia and Sarah M. Lakhani. 2016. “Transformative Effects of Immigration Law: Migrants’ Personal and Social Metamorphoses through Regularization.” American Journal of Sociology 121(6): 1818-1855

Preston, Julia. 2008. “An Interpreter Speaking Up for Migrants.” New York Times, July 11.

Charlottesville and Our Racial Fault Lines

by Rodney D. Coates, Miami University

Recent events in Charlottesville once again remind us of our torturous racial history. Therefore, it is rather strange that many were shocked with the level of hostility associated with the removal of this symbol. Perhaps if we utilized a sociological imagination we might better evaluate this current moment. Utilizing this imagination, I would argue that removal of these symbols, while important, is not sufficient to significantly alter the racial narrative and racial outcomes. If we look at recent events, symbolic victories do little to change the racial realities so many face in our country. So let us first look at some of these symbolic victories.

When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, many believed that the United States was now a post-racial society. On the contrary, however, not long after Obama’s election and inauguration, campuses saw an uptick in visible racism. The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and election exposed an extremely fragmented and polarized American electorate, characterized by deep racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, educational, and residential divides. The recent levels of increased racial violence, harassment, and discrimination coupled with rising levels of stress and anxiety provide further evidence of these significant divisions. In 2015, the last year data were reported, there were 5,818 hatecrimes, an increase of 6.5% from the previous year. In the first month after the most recent presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) documented a record 1,094 hate and bias incidents. And the number of hate groups has increased for the last two years (Bates, 2017). According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose 86% in the first three months of 2017. From 2004 to 2015, roughly 250,000 American citizens experienced hate crime victimization annually. Although these data are troubling, racism in America has deeper roots than these events or either presidential tenure. It is longstanding, systemic, and institutionalized, with far-reaching effects on all members of the nation.

One would have to be blind not to acknowledge that racism is a reality that effects individuals regardless of their racial background. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns of what happens when all we hear is a single story, about a single people, country, or group. When this is the case, we make critical mistakes as we stereotype, marginalize, and delegitimize others. Much of the single story that has occupied public discourse regarding race has focused on people of color; absent from this narrative has been Whites, particularly the White poor. Frequently these groups have been targeted by not only political but also alt-right movements. Such organizing, currently can be traced to White responses to the civil rights movements, has been the focus of much sociological attention and analysis.

The 1960s, with so much promise, were soon dwarfed as the racial state reemerged with a vengeance. The retreat from civility associated with extreme right wing politics pushed the nation sharply to the right. Ultra-conservative candidates such as Barry Goldwater articulated the need to return to the racial state and helped articulate a modern version of the White identity politics. Driving both processes is what sociologist Michael Kimmel termed Angry White Male Syndrome (AWMS).

Politically, AWMS has given rise to a number of quite effective campaigns where candidates have been able to manipulate and capitalize upon the pent up frustrations. For example, George Wallace, during the early ‘60s articulated their views when he declared, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan identified this group as a “silent majority” which was neither silent nor a majority. This “silent majority” represented the disenfranchised core of Americans who rejected civil rights and women’s rights, and were staunchly pro-American defenders of militarism, capitalism, and imperialism. In 1992, Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan tried to ride this wave of White male paranoia into the White House. Newt Gingrich and then George Bush would also tap into this fear, or what Jude Davies calls a “crisis of representation” where at the core one finds discontent by perceptions of being displaced by “others.” The current manifestation of AWMS is being played out in the GOP campaigns with the most obvious example being Donald Trump.

Donald Trump effectively marshaled various White identity groups and capitalized on White angst, anger, and fears with his slogan “Make America Great Again.” As noted by Kimmel, these angry White males in the U.S. often coalesce into political, far-right extremist movements. Kimmel also pointed to a 2008 report by Homeland Security that demonstrated the significant and unexpected rise of right-wing 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 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.

Rodney D. Coates is Professor in the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University of Ohio.


City-Based Movements Seek to Strengthen Local Human Rights Implementation

by Jackie Smith, University of Pittsburgh

The following is a brief I prepared as part of my work on the National Steering Committee of the US Human Rights Network’s National Human Rights Cities Alliance. We were invited to send a delegate to the 7th World Forum of Human Rights Cities in Gwangju, Korea, and we were asked in particular to discuss lessons and challenges related to local implementation of international human rights standards. The analysis and links below should be helpful to human rights scholars and practitioners working on this critical challenge of our day.

U.S. Context

The situation in the U.S. for national-level human rights promotion is currently dire. Amid its more public actions and statements that are openly hostile to human rights, the Trump administration recently removed the website, and State department staff working on human rights are leaving the agency.

At the same time, since the Trump election we’re seeing more local mobilization and popular recognition of the importance of local government/ local mobilization for change.[3]

Importance of Local Organization and Mobilization for Human Rights Implementation

The second national gathering of human rights cities in Washington, D.C. in May of 2016 included a panel where U.S. government officials shared perspectives on their work on local and state human rights implementation. (See summary report, Panel 4: Federal Government Perspectives). These officials working under the Obama administration indicated that there is little systematic effort in the U.S. federal government to push states and local governments to implement or to even help them learn about international human rights obligations. Few resources are provided, and staffing has been limited, even within a more favorable administration. Our conversations made it clear that organized local constituencies can be a great asset to help advance the work of translating international human rights obligations into local contexts.[4] However, to date few local communities are organized to effectively perform this role. This is something our National Human Rights City Alliance hopes to address.

Emerging Guides to Local Human Rights Implementation

In carrying out this work, we’re pleased to see that a number of groups have been producing some helpful resources to help guide local implementation work, including:

Other Practices in the U.S. Human Rights Movement to Implement Human Rights

Connecting the U.S. Public with International Human Rights Machinery: The U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) is a leading national human rights advocacy network that connects local activist groups with international human rights machinery. It work to compile shadow reports for international reviews of U.S. compliance with international treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and in the Universal Periodic Review is critical to bringing U.S. civil society into the UN human rights processes. Also, USHRN helps coordinate U.S. civil society participation in visits by UN Expert Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs, including the recent Working Group on People of African Descent.

Organizers in Chicago have successfully worked to advance the claims of the Movement for Black Lives by appealing to U.S. obligations under the International Convention Against Torture to help settle the case against Chicago police commander John Burge, who was engaged in the systematic torture of detainees over several decades. Black People Against Torture and the National Conference of Black Lawyers submitted their claim to the Committee Against Torture fifth periodic review in Geneva in 2014.

A Need for Education and Consciousness-Raising:

From this work we note that the U.S. population in general lacks human rights education and consciousness. Few U.S. residents have read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of their formal schooling, for instance. And the mainstream media devotes little to no attention to international human rights procedures that relate to U.S. human rights obligations. Thus, there is little resonance of human rights language in popular debates.

Efforts by human rights advocates to engage people in the work of monitoring local government compliance with international treaty obligations have proved an effective tool for raising awareness of human rights and building a stronger human rights movement while also strengthening local compliance.

Related to this work connecting local movements with international human rights processes is the National U.S. Human Rights City Alliance’s working group on local implementation of human rights law. Among other planned activities, this working group has been developing plans to host monthly webcasts/tele-town halls on the Universal Periodic Review process and other international instruments that pertain to U.S. policy and local human rights implementation. The goal of the working group is to help decentralize thinking about human rights law and to mobilize local partners in the work to realize human rights in local communities.

Bottom-up Treaty Ratification: US Cities for CEDAW:

Given the U.S. long-term failure to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, human rights advocates around the country are building a national campaign to ratify the treaty from the ground up. They are working to craft and pass local ordinances to implement all or parts of CEDAW, and so far seven cities have formally adopted such legislation. CEDAW cities activists are experimenting with models for local implementation and mainstreaming of a gendered analysis into policy planning and assessment. Human rights activists have been critical to the work of passing legislation and working with local entities to design effective strategies for implementation.

Cultural Work:

The National Human Rights City Alliance is a new formation (that emerged in May 2016), and we have established a working group to advance national Human Rights Days of Action on key dates such as International Human Rights Day (December 10), Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 12), and the International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (March 25), among other days that offer opportunities for human rights consciousness raising. In addition, they are helping raise public consciousness of the UN International Decade on People of African Descent. The Working Group plans to develop resources to support local action on these days and to encourage more media attention and communication about the ideas they raise.  

Right to HousingNational Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty—Helped incorporate international legal standards into regulations that impact municipalities’ applications for federal housing assistance.

Human rights scholars can help play a role in helping advance thinking and knowledge in this area of human rights implementation. The National Human Rights Cities Alliance is working to develop models to share across local contexts to help local human rights defenders learn from each other as they strengthen human rights in our country and world. If you’re interested in learning more about this effort, you can sign up for the national human rights cities email list at:


Oral History and Civil Rights Movement: Tools to Discuss Race and Ethnicity in a Mixed Race Classroom

by Melencia M. Johnson and Philip B. Mason, University of South Carolina Aiken

Assignment Rationale

Even though the students we teach grew-up in a society in which they experienced the United States electing a multi-racial president, many understand that racial inequalities still exist. This understanding often leads to an awkward silence in the mixed race introductory sociology classroom when race is discussed. More specifically, white students tend to have the most trouble discussing race for fear of offending minority classmates and/or professors. The purpose of this assignment is to generate a discussion about race in the classroom based on the oral history of a conversation partner. In so doing, any “heat” is taken off the student and projected to their conversation partner. The written assignment includes a reflection and concept connection aspect where the student interprets these experiences and relates them to class topics and their lives. Below, we reflect on our past experience implementing this assignment.


The University of South Carolina Aiken, a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) is an institution that serves a visible number of racial minority and first generation college students. University enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year included 3,243 students. That year, nearly 30 (25. 4) percent of students self-identified as African American, while 61 percent self-identified as white, (University of South Carolina Office of Institutional Effectiveness 2016). In addition, two-thirds (64%) were women, and nearly all (about 95%) were from South Carolina or Georgia—a distance of only 16 miles from campus. Our sample was drawn from three introductory sociology courses in the 2016 spring semester (n=87 enrolled students). A majority of the students were female (59.8%). White students comprised 56.3 percent of the sample, and Black students comprised 33.3 percent.

Assignment Context

Many students at our university have had few personal interactions with racial and ethnic minority groups outside of limited associations in high school; as a result, students are uncomfortable discussing race and ethnicity in mixed race environments. Stereotypes of Southern life and the turbulent racialized history impede honest discussion because of a fear of judgment. Media reports of racially motivated crimes, discussion of removal of confederate monuments, prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ and immigrants add opportunity for candid conversations about the influence of race on varied interpretations of current events. In the Southern sociological classroom, we continually remind students that issues of racism and ethnic inequality are not just an element of the past, but also a truth of our present. While we recognize that these conversations are not exclusive to the Southern classroom, we cannot ignore the salience of race as a fundamental point of separation that may discourage students from discussing race.

Race Conversation Assignment

The assignment instructed students to have a conversation about race, ethnicity, affirmative action, integration, or a similar topic with someone who was alive and remembers the Civil Rights Movement and write a three- to five-page (double-spaced) paper using their sociological imaginations to reflect on the conversation. The directions indicated that the purpose of the assignment was to provide an opportunity for students to discuss race from another person’s experience. In class explanations of the assignment, we emphasized the point of their essays do not necessarily reflect their own personal thoughts, values, or attitudes towards race. The Civil Rights Movement was the chosen era of oral history because it ensured a generational difference in norms and values of a racialized America. See Johnson and Mason (2017) for assignment details.

The essay assignment includes not only the language of their conversation partner from their oral history, but also an amalgamation of the importance of their own and their partner’s experiences as related to sociological concepts. This use of the sociological imagination and oral history from a familiar elder is beneficial in creating an interactive learning experience. It also increases the value of information, as opposed to information coming from the text or a stranger (Poll 1995).

Class Discussion

The class discussion after the assignment highlighted discrimination, racism, prejudice, and stereotypes. Students often realized their family members harbored prejudicial mantras and values by which they live their lives. White students realized that their whiteness is considered normal and that everything else has been compared to it. White students discussed how their ancestors’ behaviors may have harmed people of color, but often failed to discuss how they themselves were privileged. Minority students tended to discuss their families’ participation in the Civil Rights Movement and the atrocities faced living as a minority in the South. This exercise created an open dialogue about race that allowed the professors to discuss privilege and apply the sociological imagination to make historical connections in ways that students find personal and applicable (i.e., Mills 1959). These discussions were particularly effective because they distanced students from their personal stereotypes and attitudes, thus enabling freer discussion. The hope is that the students reflexively thought about this conversation beyond the classroom and challenged their own assumptions pertaining to race and ethnicity.

We regularly observed three major themes in these classroom discussions. First, this assignment generally makes race based-discussions easier, although some students reported discomfort and fear of negative evaluation of their comments from classmates, in turn not making it easier to discuss race. Second, most students expressed increased connection with their conversation partner because of the experiences shared during the oral history. For many, this was the first time that honest discussions regarding the Civil Rights Movement had been shared, and students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds were astonished by the experiences of their conversation partner (often their family members). Third, and most importantly, students were able to apply class concepts, use the sociological imagination, and develop a clearer understanding of current racial tensions.

Applicability to Other Classes

This project would be helpful in classroom situations where students feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions on race and other topics that are difficult to discuss. This assignment could be used to discuss the confederate war monuments, treatment of Native Americans, and immigration reform attitudes. The key learning and teaching element is the use of oral history to intimately connect the student to class concepts. Consequently, variations of this assignment will likely aid in creating a classroom environment that promotes open dialogue and leads to a greater understanding of the importance of the sociological imagination as long as students are able to find someone who is willing to provide an oral history on the subject of interest.

Our data indicated that students not only learned about incidents and attitudes during the Civil Rights Movement, but also enjoyed participating in an oral history and deepening an emotional connection with their partner, who was often a relative. This aspect of deeper connections to an elder was one of the great contributions of this assignment. Many students expressed delight upon learning about their family’s participation as freedom fighters and gained a profound respect for their conversation partner. On the other hand, some students were amazed to discover that their familial history included discriminatory attitudes and practices against people of color, and that their history had been suppressed to reflect changing American attitudes and values. While some white students shared this guilt in their assignment reflections, we did not create this assignment assuage white guilt.  Care was taken to address how familial whitewashing was a common occurrence and is connected to so many of our own family histories. We also encouraged students to recognize these “unflattering” oral histories are also important and help explain why race and ethnicity issues continue today.

In short, this assignment helped students to discover the complex relationship between space and time and realize that many of the issues of racial inequality in the past still plague our society today. The classroom discussion following the assignment provoked students to question their own attitudes regarding race and ethnicity in the current racial climate. Many students ultimately realized that like their conversation partners, their own race-based attitudes are not simply a dichotomous categorization of racism and acceptance but are situated complexly within one’s experiences, constrained by the social history and attitudes of time and place.

For a more thorough description of the theoretical framework and assignment details, please see the related peer-reviewed teaching note in Teaching Sociology.

Melencia Johnson and Philip B Mason. 2017. “Just Talking about Life:’ Using Oral Histories of the Civil Rights Movement to Encourage Classroom Dialog on Race.” Teaching Sociology 45(3):279-289.

Office of Institutional Effectiveness. 2016. University of South Carolina Aiken, Email Communication. Retrieved June 10, 2016.

Poll, Carol. 1995. “More that Reading Books: Using Oral Histories in Courses in Race and Ethnic Relations.” Teaching Sociology 23(2): 145–49.

Women in Migration

by Institute of (Im)Possible Subject

To view video by ACME:


Thursday, April 27 | Salt Lake City Public Library

In the spring 2017, a pedagogical and community event was organized. Participants were welcomed with the message promoted by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, “Utah is a welcoming city to immigrants, currently hosting 60,000 refugees fleeing persecution, violence, and war. Eight percent of our state’s population is foreign born, with a large representation of migrants from Canada, Mexico, and China.” The video offered here is a recap of the event that took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, where artists, activists, and researchers bridged pedagogies, research, and the arts with community engagement by collaborating with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) – “Women in Migration.”

The pedagogical event explored the political, social, and economic issues of immigration with Session leaders from The Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects—a transnational feminist collective of artists, writers, and researchers:

Damali Abrams the Glitter Priestess | Artist, New York City
Dalida María Benfield | Artist and researcher, Vermont College of Fine Arts
Annie Isabel Fukushima | Assistant Professor, College of Social Work and School for Cultural and Social Transformation, Ethnic Studies program, University of Utah

Through film screenings, performance, and a video/media-making workshop, IIS sought to create dialogue and imagery reflecting the experience of women in these migratory times. After a performance by Damali Abrams, “Banishing, Binding, Incantation,” followed by film screenings of Dalida Maria Benfield’s Hotel Panama and Jane Jin Kaisen’s Loving Belinda. Fukushima facilitated a discussion that prioritized sharing stories of migration, modalities, and making connections between the seemingly disparate works on migration. Then, audience was invited to create their own videos on migration. IIS facilitated the workshop, and what became clear was the deep desire and longing participants felt to discuss migration. While contradictions also embodied the gathering, we sought to create a platform of “world travelling,” furthered by Maria Lugones. This world travelling can include violence and the constraints of colonial contexts. It also embodies opportunities for one to perceive, receive and connect with each other without arrogance. We welcomed all ages, genders, and national origins to this timely discussion as an invitation to grapple with our twenty-first-century reality—people, family, and even objects on the move.

ACME (Art. Community. Museum. Education.) is an outreach initiative dedicated to rethinking the public role of the museum. ACME is twofold: the ACME Lab, a physical space for art experimentation, and the ACME Sessions, a series of roundtable public exchanges where participants can dream and articulate new models of education and community engagement through art.

These bimonthly ACME Sessions bring together Salt Lake City’s most creative, inventive, and cross-disciplinary minds—artists, educators, museum professionals, university faculty and students, engineers, scientists, technologists, activists, researchers, and others.

About the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects Migratory Times Project:

Hotel Panama [Excerpt] By Dalida Maria Benfield
Hotel/Panama. 4 to 24-channel video installation, 2010 – ongoing. In Hotel/Panama, multiple digital videos relay a spectrum of moments from the technologies and archives of the Panama Canal, creating a transmodern assemblage of historical, perspectival, temporal and epistemological fractures and trajectories. A series of visual technologies birthed the canal. Three-point perspective, the panoramic painting, the lens, the stereoscopic photograph, and cinema emerge in tandem with the geopolitical and epistemological constructions that effect “America.” These technologies materialize it from the vanishing point of the constructed horizon. The horizon births the time-space of the “New World.” Without the horizon, there is no “unknown” and there is no “New World”. Hotel Panama has been screened in 2010 at Frames GASP Projects Space, Boston, MA at Group exhibition curated by Neil Leonard and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, in conjunction with artist residency at Berklee College of Music. That same year it was screened at Estéticas Descoloniales (Decolonial Aesthetics) Espacio Parqueadero, Museo del Banco de la Republica, Bogotá, Colombia as Group exhibition curated by Walter Mignolo and Pedro Pablo Gomez Moreno, with three sites and symposium, including the Museo de Arte Moderno-MAMBO and SALASAB. Exhibited as four channel video projection. In 2011, it was screened at Decolonial Aesthetics. Group exhibition curated by Walter Mignolo, Hong-An Trang, and  Miguel Rojas-Sotelo. Fredric Jameson Gallery, Duke University as a two channel installation. And most recently it was screened at the Rethinking the Asia-Pivot: Challenging Everyday Militarisms and Bridging Communities of Women symposium at Rutgers University, curated by Annie Fukushima and Suzy Kim in conjunction with symposium as single channel work, also exhibited as 24 channel installation. December 2014.

LOVING BELINDA 2006-15 [Excerpt, 3:47 minutes] by Jane Jin Kaisen
The Loving Belinda project began in 2006 with the video Adopting Belinda in which Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, a supposedly Asian-American couple in Minnesota, are being interviewed by a Danish TV host for a series on Danish heritage because they have just adopted Belinda, a white girl from Denmark. Everything appears ordinary with the exception that the racial and cultural dynamics are reversed. The Loving Belinda Project employs the mockumentary genre, appropriating documentary features to destabilize reality with subversive effect. By staging and reversing the racial “order” within transnational adoption, the works expose some of the uneven economic, racial, and cultural relations of power that are embedded within the practice but that tend to remain unspoken. The videos Revisiting the Andersons and Loving Belinda as well as the photograph The Andersons from 2015, portray how the family is coping now whenBelinda is nine years old in the midst of changing discourses around transnational adoption. In the Loving Belinda publication, the fictional universe is contextualized by conversations between the individuals involved in the project (Jane Jin Kaisen, Tobias Hübinette, Elke Olaf Goll, Morten Goll, Lene Myong) whom in reality are all engaged in critical discourse around transnational adoption, anti-racism and whiteness in Scandinavia.


 Section Officers 

Chair: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, University of Michigan, 2017 – 2018 

Kiyoteru Tsutsui is the current chair of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Human Rights. He is Associate Professor of Sociology, Director of the Donia Human Rights Center, and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research on globalization of human rights and its impact on local politics has appeared in American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Problems, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and other social science journals, some of which received the best article award recognitions from ASA Global and Transnational Sociology Section (2010 and 2013) and ASA Human Rights Section (2017). He has also published a co-edited volume (with Alwyn Lim) Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World (Cambridge University Press 2015) and has a forthcoming book Rights Make Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan (Oxford University Press). He has been a recipient of the SSRC/CGP Abe Fellowship, Stanford Japan Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and National Science Foundation grants. His research interests lie in political/comparative sociology, social movements, globalization, human rights, and Japanese society. More specifically, he has conducted (1) cross-national quantitative analyses on how human rights ideas and instruments have expanded globally and impacted local politics and (2) qualitative case studies of the impact of global human rights on Japanese politics. His current projects examine (a) changing conceptions of nationhood and minority rights in national constitutions, (b) global expansion of corporate social responsibility, (c) experimental surveys on public understanding about human rights, and (d) campus policies and practices around human rights.. 

Chair-Elect: Brian Gran, Case Western Reserve University, 2018-2019

Brian Gran is the chair-elect for the ASA’s Section on Human Rights. He is also Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at Case Western Reserve University, and his research focuses on actors and institutions that foster and obstruct human rights advancement. Prior to joining the faculty at Case Western Reserve in 2002, Brian Gran was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at Yale University. His interests include comparative social policy, political sociology, sociology of law, and methodology. Gran’s most recent work appears in the Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, International Journal of the Sociology of Law, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Social Science Quarterly, Journal of Aging Studies, and International Journal of Health Services. His current research focuses on comparative social policy as it is formed in the intersection of the public and private sectors. Gran’s research has focused on the origins of different kinds of authoritarianism in Central America as well as the causes of democracy in the region. His research focuses on human rights abuses committed by state actors, especially the military. He is centrally concerned with both the development of formal democracy, which requires an end to the most egregious state-led abuses, and the expansion of substantive democracy, which requires improvement on human rights in all spheres of society. Gran teaches about human rights from the standpoint of national regimes and democratization.  In a course on development, he treats progress on human rights as one constitutive measure of “development.” He is quite interested in the consequences of populism around the world for human rights and sees populism as one of the major threats to rights in many parts of the world.

 Past Chair: Joachim J. Savelsberg, University of Minnesota, 2016-2017

Joachim J. Savelsberg, past-Chair of the Human Rights section, is a Professor of Sociology and, by courtesy, Law, at the University of Minnesota. He is also the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair, dedicated to work on issues of human rights and mass violence. His ongoing research focuses on institutional conditions of collective representations and memories of mass atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Born in Germany in 1951 and growing up when the Holocaust was largely silenced until the late 1960s contributed to his motivation to engage in this line of work. Recent research is reflected in Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur, published in 2015 by the University of California Press (open access-online at Related work with former advisees Ryan D. King and Hollie Nyseth Brehm, both now on the sociology faculty at Ohio State, appeared in outlets such as the AJS and the ARLSS. During fellowships at the Stellenbosch and Paris institutes for advanced study in 2018-19, he plans to write his next book on struggles over denial versus acknowledgment of genocide, with a focus on the Armenian case of 1915. Collaboration with current advisee Michael Soto recently brought him to Belfast, where he learned about the long-term effects of periods of armed conflict, even after a relatively successful peace agreement. He is also learning from work with other advisees: Miray Philips on ways in which religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa process the experience of persecution; Nicholas Wahutu on how African media report African mass violence; and Suzy McElrath on the diffusion of genocide laws at the level of nation states. Savelsberg regularly offers an upper division undergraduate course entitled “Crime and Human Rights,” in which he presents a series of historic events of mass atrocity and engages with institutional responses to these events from a sociology of law and knowledge perspective. Sadly, his research and teaching focus is only gaining relevance in light of recent and current events in places such as Syria, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Darfur, refugee crises in many parts of the world, and populist responses to such crises by political leaders. For more information see: or


Section Secretary/Treasurer: Annie Isabel Fukushima, University of Utah, 2016 – 2019

Annie Isabel Fukushima is the Secretary/Treasurer for the ASA’s Section on Human Rights. She also serves as the Co-editor for the ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter with Hollie Nyseth Brehm. Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima is Assistant Professor in the Division of Ethnic Studies with the School for Cultural & Social Transformation and Social Work at the University of Utah. Dr. Fukushima is committed to rights and transnational feminist theory and practice, as the founding editor and co-coordinator for the Institute of Impossible Subjects. Dr. Fukushima also serves as a senator on the University of Utah’s Academic Senate. Prior to joining the faculty of University of Utah, Dr. Fukushima was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University (2013 – 2015) with the Institute for Research on Women and the Department of Women and Gender Studies. She received her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, in Ethnic Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies (2012). Her research has appeared in peer-reviewed scholarly journals: Feminist Formations, Frontiers: Journal of Women Studies, and Praxis (formerly Phoebe): Gender & Cultural Critiques. Her scholarly interventions appear in anthologies: a coauthored article “Calling the Consumer Activist,” in Documenting Gendered Violence, edited by Lisa Cuklanz and Heather McIntosh (2015); a sole-authored chapter entitled “Beyond Supply and Demand” in the edited anthology Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions (2014). She has written multiple encyclopedia entries on human trafficking, intimacy and race, immigration, war and comfort women, for ABC-Clio, Greenwood Press, and Macmillan. And her general interest publications have appeared in The Essential Abolitionist, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Nation, and Asia-Times Online. Currently Dr. Fukushima is working on her monograph, Migrant Crossings, where she examines the sociopolitical process of witnessing Asian and Latina/o migrants trafficked in the U.S.

 Student Representative: Brooke Chambers, University of Minnesota,  2017 – 2019

Bio not provided.



Student Representative: Vivian Shaw, University of Texas at Austin, 2016 -2018

Vivian Shaw is doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a visiting scholar at Sophia University in Tokyo. She serves as the ASA Section on Human Rights student representative. Her current research uses ethnographic methods and other forms of qualitative analysis to investigate how disasters intensify social discrimination and simultaneously open up new modalities of citizenship and political participation. She focuses on this in the context of the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 triple disaster of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor meltdowns. She also traces the pathways by which the disaster triggered a rise in anti-Korean and anti-foreigner hate speech, along with the nationwide movement against racism that emerged in its opposition. She was drawn to the sociology of human rights because of a sense of personal, political, and intellectual urgency that made her want to understand (and ameliorate) some of the most pressing issues of our day. For Vivian, one of the biggest surprises from conducting fieldwork on hate speech in Japan for the past several years has been to witness the growing resemblance of similar debates on racism, political authoritarianism, and civil rights in the current political climate in the United States. When she first started researching social movements in Japan in 2014, she was fascinated by the fact that activists there frequently drew on the politics of antifascism to critique the government. This was a community of citizens who, while not particularly “far left” or even seasoned in activism, were deeply concerned about what they felt was an authoritarian encroachment on an array of fundamental social and political rights. In this context, they felt that the intensification of extremist racism (in the form of xenophobic hate speech) was part and parcel of a larger crisis—wherein they could no longer rely on the state to represent and respond to their political interests democratically. As she immersed herself within this field, she was struck by Japanese activists’ focus on the idea of fascism and how much this seemed to differ from the mainstream parlance of critiquing governmental entities in the United States, even among progressive activism.  Fast-forward a couple of years to 2016. Since Donald Trump began his campaign and eventually became elected as the 45th US President, “fascism” has all but become a common dinner table conversation for many. Fascism is not just only a concern among activists, but also academics, with many of us rushing to make scientific sense of these rapid and dramatic shifts to our political norms. Similarly, many of these same debates—about extremist rhetoric, what constitutes free speech, and the extent to which racist hate speech exceeds the span of rhetoric and crosses over into racial violence—are all debates that are very much reawakened in the US. One the lessons she takes away from these observations is that a transnational approach to the sociology of human rights, race, and social movements is of critical importance. It is difficult to say if this impetus is more true now than it has been before, but certainly these intensified trends in reactionary xenophobia and social exclusion—visible not only in Japan and the US, but also in Europe and other parts of East Asia—raise questions about how we can understand “rights under siege” (the theme of this newsletter) as descriptive of our national moment and part of much larger cultural and political shifts. The scope of what is “transnational” is further complicated and enriched by the evolving terrain of social media and other communications technology that shape how and where politics are constructed. Vivian believes that in pursuing these questions we should strive to be flexible and open-minded in how we notice and locate these overlapping connections. By allowing ourselves to be surprised in certain contexts, we may develop a stronger analytical apparatus for seeing what might come. 

Section Council

Check out our Spring 2018 newsletter for our council’s biographies!

Elizabeth Heger Boyle, University of Minnesota, 2019

David G. Embrick, University of Connecticut, 2018

Claudia Maria Lopez, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2020

James Mahoney, Northwestern University, 2020

Lindsey P. Peterson, Mississippi State University, 2018

Robin Stryker, University of Arizona, 2019


On the Market

My name is Heidi Rademacher.  I am an ABD candidate in the Sociology department at Stony Brook University, specializing in women’s organizing, and its intersection with political sociology, international development, and human rights.  I expect to defend my dissertation in May 2018.  I am the Program Director for the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities as well as the 2016-2017 pre-doctoral Madeline Fusco fellow at Stony Brook University.  In 2010, I received my Master’s degree in Sociology and Women’s & Gender Studies from Brandeis University.  In my doctoral dissertation, I use a combination of event history analysis and negative binomial regression models, to examine the relationship between international women’s organizing and gender policy. My findings show the positive and significant effects of the transnational women’s movement on ratifying CEDAW, with Women’s International Non-Governmental Organizations (WINGOs) and transnational feminist networks (TFNs) in high- and low-income nations and women’s political representation in middle-income nations playing the largest roles. With new insights from my research, there is a place for further exploration of economic development in analyses of human rights organizing, activism, policy, and participation in global civil society.  As a teacher, I have a solid background working with a diversity of students.  My human rights, gender, and sexualities courses are some of the highest rated sociology courses at Stony Brook and Hofstra University.  I can be contacted at

Siguru Wahutu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Minnesota and a 2017-2018 Fellow in the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Wahutu’s dissertation investigates how media fields construct knowledge about instances of massive human rights violations. Specifically, it examines how media fields in Africa construct knowledge the atrocities in Darfur. Wahutu’s research has appeared, and is forthcoming, in Media, Culture and Society, African Affairs and Global Media and Communication. He has also written about global media patterns on the coverage of genocide in Africa (with Dr. Joachim Savelsberg) and on ethnicity and land politics in Kenya (with Dr. Tade Okediji). Wahutu’s current research projects include a comparative analysis of how media organizations in Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda framed violence during the genocide in Rwanda (with Brooke Chambers UMN Sociology), how Egyptian media frame violence against Copts in Egypt following terror events (with Miray Philips UMN Sociology) and how local Minnesota newspapers framed the US-Dakota war in Minnesota (with Alejandro Baer, Joe Eggers, Brieanna Watters UMN Sociology). j. Siguru Wahutu – @wahutu. Dissertation title: Social, Field, and Regional Conditions of Knowledge: News on Darfur in Africa and the Global North. Dissertation supervisors: Joachim Savelsberg and David Pellow; Committee members: Cawo Abdi, Alejandro Baer, and Tade Okediji.


Congratulations to the following:

Joachim Savelsberg is the recipient of the 2017 Albert J. Reiss, Jr. Distinguished Scholar Award, ASA Section for Crime, Law and Deviance and of the 2017 William J. Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award, SSSP Law & Society Division. In summer 2017, he was a visiting fellow at the Transitional Justice Institute, Ulster University, Belfast. He was awarded fellowships at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (fall 2018) and at the Paris Institute for Advanced Study (spring 2019).

Annie Fukushima was awarded by the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women to conduct a study in San Francisco, California. “Violence Against Women Community Needs Assessment.” Principal Investigator: Annie Isabel Fukushima. Co-Investigator: Linday Gezinski. City and County of San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. Institution: University of Utah. DOSW FY 17 2017 RFP for the 2017 Violence Against Women Needs Assessment. June 28, 2017, San Francisco on the Status of Women – Voted to approve funding. $88,684.86.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation ($396,055) for her study, “Reentry and Reintegration of Convicted Genocide Perpetrators.” Nyseth Brehm also received the International Association of Genocide Scholar’s Emerging Scholar Prize, which is given to one early-career scholar globally, as well as the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Rada Distinguished Alumni Award.


Check out members’ recent publications.

Bryant, Emily, Emily Schimke, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, and Christopher Uggen. Forthcoming. “Techniques of Neutralization and Identity Work Among Accused Genocide Perpetrators.” Social Problems. DOI: 10.1093/socpro/spx026  

Fukushima A.I. (2017). “Human Trafficking.” Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, Gender: War. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference, USA.

Jerome Krase, and Zdenek Uherek (eds). 2017. Diversity and Local Contexts: Urban Space, Borders and Migration. Palgrave Macmillan.

Jerome Krase. 2017, “Seeing the Local in Global Cities.” In Public Space: Between Re-Imagination and Occupation, edited by Svetlana Hristova and Mariusz Czepczińsky. Routledge.

Jerome Krase and Timothy Shortell. 2017. “The Visual Impact of Islam: A Special Focus on Turkish Migration to the United States and Europe.” Urbanitie, 17(1): 22- 41.

Ya-Wen Lei. 2017. The Contentious Public Sphere: Law, Media, and Authoritarian Rule in China. Princeton University Press.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm. 2017. “Subnational Determinants of Killing in Rwanda.” Criminology 55(1): 5-31.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm and Nicole Fox. 2017. “Narrating Genocide: Time, Memory, and Blame.” Sociological Forum 32(1): 116-137.

Hollie Nyseth Brehm. 2017. “Re-examining Risk Factors of Genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research 19(1): 61-87.

Michael L. Rosino. 2017. “‘A Problem of Humanity’: The Human Rights Framework and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity DOI: 10.1177/2332649217708429.

Joachim J. Savelsberg and Wahutu Siguru. 2017. “Media Reports and African Genocide.” Volume on Crime in Media within Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology(online). Joachim J. Savelsberg. 2017. “Formal and Substantive Rationality in Max Weber’s Sociology of Law: Tensions in International Criminal Law.” In Law as Culture: Max Weber’s Comparative Sociology of Law, edited by Werner Gephart. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, pp. 493-510. Joachim J. Savelsberg. 2017. “International Criminal Law as One Response to World Suffering: General Observations and the Case of Darfur.” In Alleviating World Suffering, edited by Ronald E. Anderson. Springer, pp. 361-74.

Kiyoteru Tsutsui. 2017. “Human Rights and Minority Activism in Japan: Transformation of Movement Actorhood and Local-Global Feedback Loop.” American Journal of Sociology 122:1050-1103.

Kiyoteru Tsutsui and Jackie Smith. Forthcoming “Human Rights and Social Movements: From the Boomerang Pattern to a Sandwich Effect.” In David Snow and Sarah Soule (eds.). Wiley Blackwell Companion to Social Movements.

Kiyoteru Tsutsui. 2017. “How Do Global Human Rights Expand? A Case of Japan’s Burakumin Going Global.” In Alison Brysk and Michael Stohl (eds.). Expanding Human Rights: 21st Century Norms and Governance. Cambridge, UK: Edward Edgar, pp.35-54.

Newsletter Submission Information 

Please send the following types of submissions to Annie Isabel Fukushima and Hollie Nyseth Brehm at and To be included in the next issue, please send your submissions by February 1, 2018


Feature 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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Call for Submissions: Section on HR Fall 2017 Newsletter – “Rights Under Siege”

Dear Section on Human Rights Members,

We invite you to submit pieces for the fall 2017 section newsletter, “Rights Under Siege.” The attack on human rights has multiple fronts: it is a security issue and an immigration one. It is the ban on the trans gender community, Muslims, and the undocumented.  It is the attack on gender and sexual equity, communities of color, indigenous communities, and undocumented migrants. We would love to read personal accounts of challenging the siege on human rights in the twenty-first century and teaching in a time of siege.

We welcome: Interviews, personal accounts, research pieces, scholarly articles, teaching notes, and grassroots notes.

Contribution/Submission types

The co-editors invite members of our community to submit short pieces that broadly align with the following forms of contributions:

Feature Articles: Articles that highlight research, teaching, or engagement relevant to human rights. Each newsletter will have at least one Feature Article.

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 & 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?  Submit it to the co-editors.

PhDs on the Market: Submit a 250 word max blurb about yourself! Students and recent PhDs are encouraged to submit.


The Fall 2017 issue deadline is October 1, 2017.

How to submit:

We accept 800 – 1,000 word submissions formatted in American Sociological Association style. Resources for the style guide may be found here: To submit, attention to the newsletter co-editors: Dr. Hollie Nyseth Brehm ( and Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima (

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ASA Section on Human Rights Newsletter – Summer 2017

Click to download: WebVers_ASASeconHRNewsletter_June2017v2

A Message from the Editors – Human Rights Violations, Transitional Justice, and Collective Memory

This summer newsletter features contributions that discuss, “human rights violations, transitional justice, and collective memory.” Memories have been central to human rights endeavors – research, policy, and and community responses.

This newsletter provides a tracing of the role memory in human rights endeavors, intellectually, locally, and transnationally, as illustrated in Dr. Joachim Savelsberg and Dr. Daniel Levy’s contribution. From research to policy – memories and rights have been central to endeavors to correct violations. And the role of memories and human rights endeavors have local and transnational implications, as seen in Dr. Alejandro Baer, Brooke Chambers, and the two contributions by anonymous.

This newsletter is also celebratory and an archive for the human rights section.  We would like to remember the past awardees. We offer a moment to remember the history of the book award. The Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award is named after the late sociologist Gordon Hirabayashi who is remembered for Hirabayashi v. US where he was the second conscientious objector to Japanese Internment under Executive Order 9066. Tianna S. Paschel (winner) will be among others whose scholarship makes important contributions to the field of human rights: William Armaline, Davita Silfen Glasberg and Bandana Purkayastha (2011), Yuksel Sezgin (2014), Christopher N.J. Roberts (2015), and Elizabeth Holder (2016). And we are proud of the graduate student paper award, as it acknowledges the important work of a next generation of scholars. Kristopher Velasco’s article is among a listing of scholars who were awarded in 2011. Jennifer Constanza (2011), Ya-Wen Lei (2012), Hassan El Menyawi (2014), Marie Berry (2015) and Louisa Roberts (2016). The ASA Section on Human Rights Best Scholarly Article is more recent – illustrating the ongoing strides the section is making to recognize our colleagues and their contributions to human rights.

Human rights and memory continues to be theorized by sociologists – there are events and scholarship that speaks to this. The DAAD Trans-Atlantic Institute in 2017 in the section announcements is an opportunity for our members as well as recent publications – check out Memory and Forgetting in the Post-Holocaust Era published by Alejandro Baer and Natan Sznaider.

The process of remembering – memory –  is indispensable to processes of witnessing and the actions that follow – from the local to the international. Memory binds the past to the present, having the ability to (re)shape the present and future human condition. While some may will to forget, the will to remember human atrocities as a central aspect of justice, has been for some a methodology of human rights. We are very excited to have these important contributions as part of our 2017 summer newsletter.

Annie Isabel Fukushima, University of Utah
Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Ohio State University

Table of Contents

Notes From Your Chair: On the Life of the Section and on Memory and Human Rights by Joachim J. Savelsberg


Memories of Human Rights Abuses by Daniel Levy, Stony Brook University

Healing Wounds or Perpetuating Divisions? The Paradoxes of Genocide Memory by Alejandro Baer, University of Minnesota

The Interconnectedness of Language and Memory in Rwanda by Brooke Chambers, University of Minnesota

Redacted Anonymous Contributions – Members Only


Section on Human Rights Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

Becoming Black Political Subjects Book Review by Wade Cole

Section on Human Rights Best  Scholarly Article Award

Section on Human Rights Section Best Graduate Student Paper Award

Section Leadership


ASA 112th Annual Meeting: Culture, Inequalities, and Social Inclusion Across the Globe – Section Sessions.

“You’re invited!” Human Rights Section Reception & Meeting Information


Call for Papers




Newsletter Submission Information

Notes From Your Chair: On the life of the Section and on Memory and Human Rights

by Joachim J. Savelsberg, University of Minnesota

This is my last contribution to our section newsletter as your Chair. It has been a pleasure and an honor serving you in this role during the 2016-17 academic year. This past year certainly helped us appreciate, with yet greater clarity, the urgency of our mission.

I divide my comments into Part I, on the organizational and intellectual life of our section, and Part II on the theme of this summer edition: Human Rights Violations, Transitional Justice, and Collective Memory.”

Part I: Our Section – Signs of Strength and Need to Grow

Our section is in good health. Several indicators solidly support this assessment:

  1. Our membership held relatively steady, especially as compared to some ASA sections that have experienced substantial losses in recent years.
  2. We have an excellent team taking over the section at the meetings in Montreal, with Kiyoteru Tsutsui as Chair. We are looking forward to his leadership in 2017-18.
  3. We were able to attract outstanding candidates for this year’s election. Thanks to all who ran and congratulations to those who won: Brian Gran will be our new Chair-elect (2017-18) and Chair (2018-19); Claudia Lopez and James Mahoney will be joining the Council for the 2017-20 period; and Brooke Chambers will be a new Student Representative from 2017 to 2019. Given the abundance of outstanding candidates, and the willingness of candidates who did not get elected this time to run again in future years, I am not worried about staffing the section leadership in future years.
  4. This is also a good place to thank the outgoing officers and those who carry on for their outstanding service. Outgoing are Manisha Desai as Past-Chair, Kiyo Tsutsui and Wade Cole as members of the Council and Jennifer Ann Cheek as Student Representative. Your contributions have been crucial. Those whose terms continue are David Embrinck, Lindsey Peterson, Liz Boyle and Robin Stryker on the Council, Annie Fukushima as Secretary-Treasurer, and Vivian Shaw as Student Representative. We continue to count on you!
  5. We were able to coordinate efforts with the Section for the Sociology of Law to create two fascinating panels at the ASA meetings. Entitled “Human Rights and Law from Above and Below: Comparative Perspectives,” they are supplemented by an excellent roundtable (detailed information below). Besides myself, Lynette Chua and Frank Munger served as organizers, and I am grateful to both.
  6. With Annie Fukushima and Hollie Nyseth Brehm, we have a great new team of newsletter editors. The first two editions under their guidance attest to their energy and skill. I am profoundly grateful to both. The past newsletter edition, providing a wealth of contributions on human rights issues and human rights scholarship after the 2016 US elections, and the contributions to the current issue attest to their initiative and the section’s energy and intellectual engagement.
  7. We had an impressive turnout in nominations for 2017 awards, and our committees were able to award prizes to great works and their authors. We look forward to handing out these awards (in the context of our business meeting) and to celebrating with the recipients in Montreal. Here are the decisions:
    1. The recipient of the Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award is Tianna S. Paschel for Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil (Princeton University Press, 2016). An Honorable Mention goes to Robert Wyrod with AIDS and Masculinity in the African City: Privilege, Inequality, and Modern Manhood (University of California Press, 2016). Thanks to Wade Cole (chair), Erik Larson and Wes Longhofer for their work on the book award committee. They received a substantial number of excellent books and worked hard.
    2. The outstanding article award goes to Kiyoteru Tsutsui, “Human Rights and Minority Activism in Japan: Transformation of Movement Actorhood and Local-Global Feedback Loop,” American Journal of Sociology 122/4:1050-1103; the Honorable Mention to: Nate Ela, “Litigation Dilemmas: Lessons from the Marcos Human Rights Class Action,” Law & Social Inquiry 42/2:479–508. Thanks to committee members Robin Stryker (chair), Chris Roberts and Kim L. Scheppele for their hard work.
    3. The recipient of the outstanding graduate student paper is Kristopher Velasco with “Human Rights INGOs, LGBT INGOs, and LGBT Policy Diffusion, 1991-2015.” Thanks to Kiyo Tsutsui (chair), Ya-Wen Lei, and Christine Min Wotipka for their engagement.

While these are signs for the good health of the human rights project within ASA, we certainly cannot rest. Many more sociologists work on issues related to human rights than are represented among our membership. We must continue to run energetic membership campaigns the way Liz Boyle and her committee did over the past year. Despite their efforts, we are still substantially below the membership level normally expected for ASA sections. Great thanks to Liz and her team – and, in advance, best of success to their successors. Most importantly, of course, we have to continue and intensify our work on human rights issues.

In conclusion, it will be my great pleasure to hand a healthy and vibrant section over to Kiyo Tsutsui at the meetings in Montreal. I look forward to seeing many of you at our sessions, at the business meeting, and at the reception (on the of town), co-organized with the sections for Sociology of Law and Crime, Law and Deviance. It should be spectacular. Please look for detailed information below and please do show up! This is an opportunity to celebrate our community, to toast with the award recipients, and to practice solidarity with our joint project.


Part II: Human Rights Violations, Transitional Justice, and Collective Memory 

Collective memories of past human rights violations (and representations of ongoing ones) are of particular interest to human rights scholars, for two reasons. First, collective memories have been a driving force of human rights movements, and second, they have always been shaped by responses to massive human rights violations (or lack thereof), by transitional justice mechanisms deployed in transitions from war to peace and from dictatorship to democracy.

Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider (2010), in their book on Human Rights and Memory, have powerfully argued that “… historical memories of past failures to prevent human rights abuses have become a primary mechanism through which the institutionalization of human rights idioms and their legal inscription during the past two decades have transformed sovereignty. The global proliferation of human rights norms is driven by the public and frequently ritualistic attention to memories of their persistent violations” (p. 4; my emphasis). In other words, memories drive human rights discourses, and these discourses have become a major cultural and political force.

Levy and Sznaider describe how the notion of the nation state, a product of the French Revolution, became radicalized by the outcome of WWI. The post-war order gave sixty million people states of their own, but it also turned twenty-five million into minorities, and sought to protect them via minority rights, established by the League of Nations. This attempt had to fail, the authors argue, in light of the strong notion of national sovereignty, on which the new international order was based. The consequences were catastrophic, and recognition of this failure motivated a shift from minority rights toward human rights after the end of WWII. Universal declarations and principles generated by war crimes trials document this shift. Examples are the notion of crimes against humanity and of citizens’ moral responsibility even against their own states. Jews, no longer the focus of the new philosophy, despite the Judeocide of the Nazis, became representatives of humanity as such. The widely accepted and massive forced transfer of minority populations at the end of WWII (ethnic cleansing in today’s vocabulary) further reflected the demise of minority protection. Legal language after World War II underscored the new focus on human rights and its mnemonic roots. I am very pleased that we could convince Daniel Levy to write a brief contribution to this newsletter.

While memories of massive human rights violations thus became one driving force of the human rights regime, the relationship is reciprocal. Institutions and proceedings in response to human rights violations are now major contributors to collective memories and representations.

Efforts to understand these links have become central to human rights research, for example at my own institution, the University of Minnesota. Allow me to provide some examples and invite colleagues to submit similar reports from their own institutions for future editions of the newsletter.

Alejandro Baer, Director of our Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, has been at the forefront of efforts to link issues of collective memory and human rights (Baer and Sznaider 2016). Most noteworthy is his research on memories of the Holocaust, the Dirty War in Argentina and the Franco Regime in Spain, but also a series of symposia and teachers’ workshops he organized in recent years (see website: <>).

My own work has similar aims, reflected in both American Memories: Atrocities and the Law (with Ryan D. King, 2011) and Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur (2015). I was pleased when the latter book was among the first the University of California Press published as an open access-online publication <>. Given its focus on mass violence in the global south, it seemed appropriate to make it available to readers in places where books cannot be ordered with the same ease as in New York, Sidney, Madrid, or Berlin.

These books address collective representations and memories as crucial ingredients of a black box that connects institutional responses to human rights violations with outcomes. Positive outcomes, reductions of grave human rights violations have been identified in recent analyses of new and impressive data sets. Scholars such as Kathryn Sikkink (2011) or Beth Simmons and Hyeran Jo (2016) document that transitional justice intervention, including that of the International Criminal Court have the potential of reducing violence. Yet, the causal link is underexplored. Political scientists speculatively rely on deterrence arguments. My data instead point at the potential role of changing collective representations and memories of mass violence. Transitional justice interventions after all challenge the age-old celebration of those responsible for mass violence as great state builders (Giesen 2004); they also impede denial (Cohen 2001).

Representing Mass Violence focuses on the Darfur conflict in Sudan. Unfolding during the first decade of the 21st century, it caused an estimated loss of 300,000 human lives, in addition to massive displacements, rape campaigns and the destruction of livelihood of millions. Analyzing data collected in eight countries, it showed that criminal justice intervention has the potential of casting a shadow on the reputation of those responsible for mass violence. Might the buildup of international justice institutions, often accompanied by creative alternate transitional justice mechanisms, thus generate some of the civilizing effects that the development of state institutions had over past centuries? Uncertainties are great, of course, but opportunities offer itself, and continued observation is the order of the day. Darfur, sadly, is not a single case in recent decades. Consider the mass violence in countries such as Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, the DRC, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burma/Myanmar. Today the ongoing mass violence in Syria and Iraq dominates news media headlines.

Shifting memories also constitute new identities that may reverse the “unmixing” or hardening of ethnically pure identities advanced by genocidaires. Importantly, they are not just the product of highly visible transitional justice mechanisms, but also of institutional changes at the local level. Michael Soto, a graduate student at Minnesota, is currently involved in promising research on associational life, memory and identity (re-) formation in Northern Ireland and Colombia after peace accords. Other Minnesota graduate students engage in similarly fascinating work. Brooke Chambers examines the role of local rituals in the shaping of memories and ethnic identities in Rwanda. Wahutu Siguru studies the role of African news media in the cultural processing of African genocides and Miray Philips that of local churches for Coptic Christians in Egypt. Suzy McElrath Maves uses memories as one reference point when she studies how the Genocide Convention inspires national-level legislation against genocide around the globe. Examples of promising work by undergraduate students are projects by Abby Vogel on the role of documentary films about the Armenian genocide, Elizabeth Stencel and Renée Rippberger on denialism in France, and archival research by Prashasti Bhatnagar on the bearing witness by American missionaries in Turkey of 1915.

Cultivating memories of suffering has potentially positive consequences, especially if it does not become a competitive race for victim status but cultivates solidarity across victim groups. I was profoundly impressed when I witnessed such solidarity at the 2016 Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide in Yerevan. While focusing on the memory of the Armenian genocide, the event also included speakers from Cambodia and Rwanda as well as a young Yezidi woman from Syria. In the fall of 2016, a Darfur Women’s Action Group, gathering in Washington, DC, included testimony from female victims of the mass atrocities committed not just in Darfur but also in Burma/Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Rwanda. On both occasions, I was very pleased that the organizers invited me to shed scholarly light on questions that drive their work. Finally, last summer I had the opportunity to lecture in a class with Palestinian, Sudanese and Syrian students the École des Hautes Études en Science Sociales in Paris, designed to help refugees find their way back into higher education in their new/host country. I am impressed by such models of solidarity in the fight for human rights in instructional and commemorative contexts.

Let us thus move forward with work on the reciprocity between memory, representations and transitional justice. I encourage colleagues at other places to submit reports about related projects at their colleges and universities. More broadly, let’s keep our section in good health and strengthen it as an intellectual space for the advancement of human rights scholarship.


Alejandro Baer and Natan Sznaider. 2016. Memory and Forgetting in the Post-Holocaust Era: The Ethics of Never Again. Abingdon: Routledge

Stanley Cohen. 2001. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bernhard Giesen. 2004. Triumph and Trauma. London: Paradigm.

Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider. 2010. Human Rights and Memory. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Joachim J. Savelsberg. 2015. Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur. Oakland: University of California Press.

Joachim J. Savelsberg and Ryan D. King. 2011. American Memories: Atrocities and the Law. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.

Kathryn Sikkink. 2011. The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics. New York

Memories of Human Rights Abuses

by Daniel Levy, Stony Brook University

Considering the recent and gradual dismantling of the Human Rights Regime (HRR), the central theme of this newsletter issue could not be more opportune. The HRR, which came into being during the 1990s, supplied political legitimacy, cultural templates, legal inscriptions and a powerful aspirational rhetoric to a wide range of activists. It also put human rights belatedly but firmly on the agenda of sociological research. However, in recent years there has been a backlash against human rights politics, not only from powerful and authoritarian countries, but also, although to a lesser extent, by human rights activists themselves (criticizing North-South divides, raising the possibility that humanitarian aid can reproduce the very conflicts it purports to end, etc.).

This is where memory (and commemoration) come in, both as an explanation for the origins of the HRR and as a central mechanism explaining its continuous political, legal and cultural relevance. Let me elaborate on this claim, which at first sight seems to contradict what I have said above.

In the late 1990s, Natan Sznaider and I explored the impact globalization has had on collective memories, which at that point had largely been studied within the national container. We noticed a transition from national to what we referred to as cosmopolitan memory cultures. Cosmopolitanism refers to a process of ‘internal globalization’ through which global concerns become part of the local experiences of an increasing number of people (Beck 2009). Global media representations were providing new epistemological vantage points and moral-political interdependencies, creating possibilities for cosmopolitan memories. We traced these developments by examining how the Holocaust has been remembered in Germany, Israel and the USA since Word War II (Levy and Sznaider 2001 [2006]) as different groups attempted to universalize, particularize and nationalize memories of the Holocaust. For a variety of reasons, Holocaust memories gradually assumed global resonance. Their strength as a global collective memory has been powered through the interaction between the local and the global. These cosmopolitanized memories, we argued, do not replace national collective memories but exist as their horizon.

Memories of the Holocaust have since evolved into a universal code that is now synonymous with an imperative to address past injustices (both legally as well as in commemorative terms). The recent UNESCO proposal to focus on the ‘lessons of the Holocaust’ as it relates to Genocide prevention is but one of many recurring examples in this vein. Although the “memory imperative” originated with the centrality of Holocaust memories during the 1990s, it has become a de-contextualized code for human rights abuses as such (Levy and Sznaider 2010). The salience of universal (human) or particular (national) rights is mediated, among other things, by the extent to which memories of past human rights abuses are transmitted as concrete or abstract forms, the latter proliferating with the cosmopolitanization of memories. Thus, one might say, human rights matter only to the extent that their universality is recognized.

This recognition, in turn, is predicated on a process of de-contextualization by which memories of concrete (particular) atrocities are transformed into abstract (universal) violations of humanity. Without this de-contextualization it is difficult to re-contextualize memories of human rights as abstract categories and thus ensure their recognition as universal lessons for humanity. Of course, this process of abstraction does little to change the fact that communities transmit particular memories of the past, based largely on whether memories of past abuses are a concrete part of shared experiences or whether they lack the kind of proximity (or distance) that allows them to become abstract principles. Accordingly, the strength of human rights principles in a given national context is the product of the tenuous balance between particular (concrete) and universal (de-contextualized) memories.

Some historians have bemoaned what they refer to as the ‘memory fad’ (Rosenfeld 2009). That is understandable, since the process of de-contextualization creates the potential for historical distortions and political manipulations. However, it is these manipulations that are the raw materials sociologists analyze. The institutionalization of such memories, and their power to mobilize legitimate political claims, is thus based on de-contextualization and a shift from concrete memories to abstract remembrance. Seventy years after the Holocaust, it is no longer the atrocities themselves that are at the center of attention, but how the heirs of the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders are coping with these memories. More specifically, we have argued, that historical memories of past failures to prevent human rights abuses have become a primary mechanism through which the institutionalization of human rights idioms and their legal inscription during the past two decades have transformed sovereignty. The global proliferation of human rights norms is driven by the public and frequent ritualistic attention to memories of their persistent violation. The emergence of this global cultural “memory imperative” finds its expression in a set of political and normative expectations to engage with past injustices. Nevertheless, or precisely because of this dynamic, memory work generating human rights activism has not diminished.

Memory clashes abound and provide ample evidence that the prominence of human rights does not imply the end of the national and, at times, even raises the specter of renationalization or retribalization. However, the prevalence of human rights, the mediated proliferation of memories of human rights abuses, and their association with particularistic politics do signify the diminishing return of hegemonic nationalism. In other words, memories of failures to address human rights abuses remain one of the main mechanisms conferring continued legitimacy to human rights politics.


Beck, Ulrich. 2006. The Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Levy, Daniel, and Natan Sznaider. 2006. Memory and the Holocaust in a Global Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Levy, Daniel, and Natan Sznaider. 2010. Human Rights and Memory. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. 2009. “A Looming Crash or a Soft Landing? Forecasting the Future of the Memory ‘Industry.’” The Journal of Modern History 81 (1): 122–58.

Healing Wounds or Perpetuating Divisions? The Paradoxes of Genocide Memory

by Alejandro Baer, University of Minnesota

Since the turn of the century several scholars in the humanities and social sciences have coined a number of terms that describe the distinct forms that collective memory takes in the age of globalization. Memory via the nation-state is understood as “multidirectional” (Rothberg), “travelling” (Erll) and cosmopolitan (Levy and Sznaider). A common feature is the transnational circulation of images and language of traumatic violence, such as the exponential use of Holocaust analogies and the term “genocide” being increasingly adopted within numerous local contexts. While the field of memory studies has focused generally on causes and conditions that led to the transnationalization of memory discourses and practices, my research interest has been the examination of its consequences. What are the effects of generalizing the Holocaust and the concept of genocide as a universal template for evil and victimhood? How are subjectivities and identities conditioned by such global memory frames, and what forms of collective action do these memories facilitate or hinder? Does the revisiting of the past through these interpretative prisms enable or hamper the task of coming to terms and overcoming divisive pasts?

An email I received from a Native American activist a couple years ago sparked my interest in exploring these questions. What struck me as particularly relevant was the fact that this person signed his letter with his name and “5th generation survivor of genocide.” If we understand genocide, according to the UN Convention of 1948, as the intentional action to destroy “in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” then this self-description is indeed accurate. Not only those who lived through the genocidal events themselves survived the genocide, but every generation in its aftermath, since the group as such was singled out for destruction (either physically or culturally). Any group member is therefore a (remembering) survivor, regardless of the passage of time.

But with the victims’ identities the imagined perpetrator group is also passed on through the generations. Historian Dan Diner coined the sociologically fruitful concept of the “negative symbiosis” to refer to Jewish-German relations after the Holocaust. For both Germans and for Jews, argues Diner, the result of mass extermination has become “a kind of opposed reciprocity they have in common, willy-nilly.”[1] In other words “Jews” and “Germans” are inherently entangled with each other, since the Holocaust has bound them forever to the past. And this ever present past has opened an insurmountable gap that conditions the mutual relationship, as well as the passing on of group identity—of victims/survivors, but also of perpetrators stuck in a permanent position of culpability—to the next generations. Moreover, it perpetuates in time a deceitful binary categorization constructed by the Nazi ideologues: Germans vs. Jews.

The paradox lies in that remembering mass violence as genocide often reproduces the sort of thinking in group terms that is at the very core of genocidal actions. Indeed, groups only fantasized as real by perpetrators often become real communities as a consequence of stigmatization, persecution and displacement. But this fact does not make the definition of genocide sociologically less incoherent. Lawyer Rafael Lemkin (1900-1959), founder of the term genocide and the intellectual force behind the 1948 Convention, did not look at ethnic or national groups as socially and culturally constructed, nor did he consider the fact that boundaries between groups can be fluid and often evolve over time.[2]

In sum, this “negative symbiosis,” this communality of opposites –inherent in the very definition of the term genocide, is reinforced through genocide memory narratives and represents a fundamental obstacle in attempts to overcome a divisive past. Rwanda is also a case at point. Between April and July 1994, approximately 800,000 people defined as Tutsi were brutally slaughtered by members of the Hutu majority. While today’s Rwandan Tutsi-led Government condemns and even outlaws the use of ethnic markers, it is also adamantly stressing in ceremonies, memorials and museums that the events of 1994 are defined as “The Genocide against the Tutsi.” By remembering the genocide, Rwandans may well be trapped in the paradox of perpetuating the divisions that they are trying to overcome. Can genocidal events be remembered as such without reifying constructed differences between the victims and perpetrators?

The crimes committed in the Americas against the Native population, the crimes of the Nazis in the Holocaust or the Hutus in Rwanda were first and foremost perpetrated against ethnic others. But what happens when the atrocities are perpetrated against political enemies? In Francoist Spain (1936-1975) or in Argentina of the military Juntas (1976-1983), two cases I discuss in a recent book co-authored with Natan Sznaider, there was no distinction between perpetrator and victim in ethnic or national terms. But it seems that revisiting the events under the representational frame of genocide and with Holocaust analogies, as we see happening lately in these two countries, enables memories that function in a similar manner, embodying similar dilemmas and significantly limiting options for political communication and action.

Where does this leave us in terms of the local signification of global or transnational memories? The genocide frame, in addition to, and interwoven with, Holocaust references and symbols has provided a powerful tool to human rights groups and has raised awareness of the severity of crimes which, in this new light, would expel any remaining legitimations of the violence to the margins of political discourse. At the same time, it has proven a mixed blessing. Involving strong emotional and ethical claims such memories imply also, more often than not, that no compromise, no normal politics, no forward-looking agenda is possible.

The Interconnectedness of Language and Memory in Rwanda

by Brooke Chambers, University of Minnesota

What does it mean to be a Rwandan? Over the past 100 years, the answer to that question has had a series of distinct, and at times catastrophic, answers. In the decades that have passed since the 1994 genocide, memory and knowledge of this violence have left a lasting stamp on Rwandan identity. This transition is reflected in a series of distinct changes and regulations of language, as definitions from different historical periods reflect strikingly divergent visions of Rwandan society. These alterations have shaped contemporary knowledge in Rwanda in ways that will likely have significant impacts for generations to come.

Rwanda’s lack of written history before colonization would prove to have key ramifications regarding collective memory and ethnicity. The understanding of ethnicity has been a topic of hot debate throughout the course of Rwanda’s history, a debate that exacerbated the ethnically-motivated violence which plagued the nation for decades. Contemporarily, young Rwandans are taught that the groups of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” did not have ethnic implications before the colonial powers arrived but were rather fluid, coexisting social groups based upon cattle ownership. In this narrative, it was not until colonial times that these roles were characterized by hostility, as colonizers instilled discrepancies in power to divide the two. In Burundi, a neighbor and classical pair and foil to Rwanda due to the nations’ ethnic and cultural similarities, this historical interpretation is present. But there, the idea that the Hutu and Tutsi migrated separately to the region at different times in history is more widely believed. The Rwandan government formally denounces this latter interpretation as a colonial-era fallacy, as narratives of separate regional origin were an essential component to propaganda during the 1994 genocide.

Largely over the course of 100 days, as many as one million Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed. Promoted knowledge of ethnicity again shifted, this time to serve the goals of those orchestrating the genocide. Various institutions, including the media and educational system, constructed Hutus as the original Rwandans, while Tutsi were foreign invaders. This messaging was seen throughout the nation in a variety of formats; however, few mechanisms wielded as much power as the radio, particularly Radio RTLM. Perpetrators created lists of individuals and families who were to be killed, regularly broadcasting their suspected locations. Broader appeals to violence were also common; calls for protection from “invaders” for the safety of all “Rwandans” (meaning only Hutus) played a central role in maintaining an environment conducive to genocide. Slurs such as “cockroach” took away not only the “Rwandan” label from the Tutsi population, but also the identity of human.

The time since the 1994 genocide has been marked by calls for unity and reconciliation, and formal regulation on behalf of the Rwandan government has again altered the meaning of ethnicity and nationality. This new message is reflected in the 2003 constitution, which legally eliminated ethnicity from Rwandan society. The terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were formally banned from the public sphere, representing the vision of a unified Rwanda: a new nation built upon modernization and globalization, utterly removed from the eras of civil war and genocide. Deviating from this narrative can have significant political or legal ramifications, as the government has prosecuted a small number of those utilizing these ethnic as promoters of “genocide ideology.”

However, there is one space where ethnicity still comes to the forefront in Rwanda: the commemorative process. The Rwandan government has legislated that the genocide formally be called “the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.” Those who were considered Hutu who were killed during the genocide are placed in a separate category of victimhood, while the “survivor” label is specifically used for those who were Tutsi.  Some scholars, such as Marie Berry, argue that post-genocide labels, such as “perpetrator” and “survivor,” have largely replaced ethnicity in Rwanda, reflecting the previous ethnic status in a politically accepted way.[3] Commemorative spaces and ceremonies reinforce the isolated victimhood of Tutsi. Of particular note, these forms of remembrance contribute to the collective memory of younger generations, with the possible effect of cementing this messaging at least publically for the foreseeable future. But while the government has legislated labels of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” to be terms of the past, a number of scholars argue that ethnicity still exists in Rwanda behind closed doors.

The contemporary, reconciliatory language seems to symbolically mark a rebirth of Rwandan society into a safe, globalized nation, one characterized by a peace not seen since the days before colonization. Accompanying this new narrative are a number of key successes on scales of international development, particularly in the areas of primary education, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. More critical scholars, however, argue that this language simply covers up ethnic tensions which still exist in Rwanda and allows the Rwandan government to retain power, despite questions of human rights violations. Time will show if future generations will accept the promoted narrative of unity, or if social forces will yet again challenge history, definition, and knowledge. In the meantime, ongoing research will hopefully provide beneficial indicators regarding the future course of Rwanda. As new generations grow up in a post-genocide era and rise to power in the coming decades, this current narrative of ethnicity will be either reinforced or, again, reconstructed.


Alexander, Jeffrey et al. 2004. Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gourevitch, Philip. 1999. We Wish to Inform You That Tonight We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ingelaere, Bert. 2010. “Peasants, Power and Ethnicity: A Bottom-Up Perspective on Rwanda’s Political Transition.” African Affairs 109(435):273–92.

Lemarchand, René. 2013. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Olick, Jeffrey K. 1999. “Genre Memories and Memory Genres: A Dialogical Analysis of May 8, 1945 Commemorations in the Federal Republic of Germany” American Sociological Review 64(3):381-402.

UNDP (United Nations Development Program). 2013. “Millennium Development Goals Rwanda – Final Progress Report: 2013.”


Two Anonymous Contributions – For Members Only



Section on Human Rights Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

The American Sociological Association Human Rights Section is pleased to announce the Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award recipient: Tianna S. Paschel, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, for her book Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil (Princeton University Press, 2016). An Honorable Mention goes to AIDS and Masculinity in the African City: Privilege, Inequality, and Modern Manhood (University of California Press, 2016), by Robert Wyrod. Professor Wyrod is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Colorado. We would like to thank the Human Rights Section book award committee: Wade Cole (chair), Erik Larson, and Wesley Longhofer. 

Becoming Black Political Subjects Book Review

By Wade Cole, University of Utah

This year’s Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award goes to Tianna S. Paschel, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, for her book Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil (Princeton University Press, 2016). The book, which is based on nearly a decade’s worth of ethnographic and archival research, places what Professor Paschel calls “ethno-racial rights” at the center of debates around human rights more generally. It does so by examining the relationship between social movements, global institutions, and domestic law in Latin America since the 1980s.

The book’s core premise is that definitions of citizenship in Latin America have undergone radical changes over the past 30 years, shifting from universal and culturally homogenous conceptions of the citizenry (often rooted in the “mestizo” myth) toward more multicultural understandings that acknowledge—and seek to ameliorate—ethno-racial inequalities. Constitutional reforms during the wave of democratization that swept over Latin America in the 1980s increasingly recognized the collective rights of indigenous and black communities; in some cases, governments even enacted affirmative action laws designed to address and redress past inequalities.

Developing a theoretical framework Paschel calls “political field alignment,” the book argues that these changes occurred when national and international political fields converged, giving social movement actors the opportunity to press their rights claims. Periods of alignment between the global and domestic political fields enable “actors to articulate and legitimate political struggles that may have otherwise remained at the margins” (p. 19). International human rights treaties (such as the International Labor Organization’s convention on the rights of indigenous people) and global conferences on racism (especially the Durban conference in 2001) afforded social movement activists the leverage and legitimacy for advancing their agendas domestically.

These changes, however, played out differently in Paschel’s two country cases. In Colombia, the logic of multiculturalism and ethnic difference triumphed, whereas in Brazil state and social movement discourses emphasized a racial equality frame. This difference, Paschel argues, traces to three primary factors. First, understandings of “blackness” differed in Colombian and Brazilian nationalist imaginings. Second, social movement activists themselves articulated different sets of identities and demands. And third, timing played an important role: the “multicultural” frame was dominant during the 1980s and 90s, whereas the “racial equality” frame emerged after the turn of the new millennium.

Professor Paschel’s book was recently reviewed in the journal Perspectives on Politics (Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2017, pp. 275-276). The review praises Becoming Black Political Subjects as “a beautiful book all around,” one that is “impressive, informative, and well-researched.” The selection committee for this award—comprising myself, Erik Larson of Macalester College, and Wes Longhofer of Emory University—could not have agreed more with these sentiments. Paschel brings extensive fieldwork and empirical observations to bear established social-scientific theory, and in the process offers a novel theoretical contribution of her own. Her book deftly integrates macro- and micro-level processes, international and domestic developments, and structure and agency into a cohesive narrative. It offers fresh insights that contribute to our collective understanding of human rights developments in the Latin American context. For all these reasons, we congratulate Professor Paschel!

Section on Human Rights Best Scholarly Article Award

The American Sociological Association Human Rights Section is pleased to announce the Best Article Award recipient: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, “Human Rights and Minority Activism in Japan: Transformation of Movement Actorhood and Local-Global Feedback Loop” published in the American Journal of Sociology. Honorable Mention goes Nate Ela’s article, “Litigation Dilemmas: Lessons from the Marcos Human Rights Class Action,” which was published in Law & Social Inquiry. We would like to thank the Human Rights Section article award committee: Robin Stryker (chair), Kim L. Scheppele, and Christopher Roberts.

Section on Human Rights Best Graduate Student Paper Award

The American Sociological Association Human Rights Section is pleased to announce the graduate student best paper award recipient: Kristopher Velasco, from University of Texas at Austin, “Human Rights INGOs, LGBT INGOs, and LGBT Policy Diffusion, 1991-2015.” We would like to thank the Human Rights Section committee: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Ya-Wen Lei, and Christine Min Wotipka. A message from the committee:

“The selection committee was unanimous and enthusiastic in their choice of Velasco’s paper. The work presents a simple but important argument that counters the prevailing literature on the worldwide diffusion of LGBT rights. Velasco’s argument is tested using a unique, 11-point measure of LGBT rights, called the LGBT Policy Index, and a scale of Global Pressure, both of which Velasco created. This work makes an important contribution to the literature by showing how rights promotion for marginalized populations can best be advanced by targeted social movements rather than wide-ranging human rights organizations.”

Section Leadership

Incoming Leaders (2017 – 2018)

Welcome to the following individuals who will be taking on important section leadership roles. We thank you for stepping into these roles that will help to define the section for the 2017 – 2018 year.

Brian Gran, Case Western Reserve University (Chair-elect 2017-18; Chair 2018-19)

Claudia Lopez, University of California at Santa Cruz (Council 2017-20)

James Mahoney, Northwestern University (Council 2017-20)

Brooke Chambers, University of Minnesota (Student Representative 2017-19)

Leaders 2016 – 2017

We send a deep appreciation to the following for your service this past year (2016 – 2017). The following have provided important leadership for the section:

Chair: Joachim Savelsberg, University of Minnesota (2017)

Chair Elect for 2017: Kiyo Tsutsui, University, University of Michigan (2016 – 2017)

Section Secretary/Treasurer: Annie Isabel Fukushima, University of Utah (2016 – 2019)

Council Members: Kiyoteru Tsutsui (2017), Wade M. Cole (2017), David G. Embrick (2018), Lindsey P. Peterson (2018), Elizabeth Heger Boyle (2019), Robin Stryker (2019)

Student Representative: Vivian Shaw (2018)

Committee Leadership

And the important work of committee leaders really helps to keep our section the vibrant section it is with their leadership:

Resources/Mentorship Committee: Lindsey Peterson (Chair)

Student Activity Committee: Lindsey Peterson (Chair) & Jennifer Cheek

Local Arrangements Committee: David Embrinck (Chair); Hollie Nyseth Brehm; Eran Shor

Nominations Committee: Manisha Desai (Chair)

Membership Committee : Liz Boyle (Chair); Brian Gran; John Hagan; Mounira (Maya) Charrad

Book Award Committee: Wade Cole (chair), Erik Larson, and Wesley Longhofer

Article Award Committee: Robin Stryker (Chair); Kim L. Scheppele; Chris Roberts

Student Paper Award Committee: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, Ya-Wen Lei, and Christine Min Wotipka

Publications Committee: Hollie Nyseth Brehm and Annie Isabel Fukushima

Program Committee: Kiyo Tsutsui; Joachim Savelsberg



ASA 112th Annual Meeting: Culture, Inequalities, and Social Inclusion Across the Globe – Section Sessions

Montreal, QC Canada

Join the ASA Human Rights Section for the section organized roundtable and paper presentations. We invite our members to attend these presentations.

Section on Sociology of Law. Human Rights and Law from Above and Below: Comparative Perspectives

Mon, August 14, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 512G

Session Submission Type: Paper Session 100min


One of two paired sessions, co-sponsored by the sections on the Sociology of Law and Human Rights. Papers in these sessions will explore the relationship between law and human rights. Questions include: how do legal guarantees secure human rights, and how do they fail to do so? How do human rights guarantees generate (or not) mobilization of law? How do human rights shape legal consciousness, and how does legal consciousness shape human rights? Papers will address these issues from a comparative perspective, across social groups, regional and national contexts. Law established by states and international actors, as well as legal mobilization from below and legal consciousness will be addressed.

Organizer: Joachim J. Savelsberg, University of Minnesota

Discussant: Christopher Roberts, University of Minnesota

“Beyond the State: Implementing Human Rights in Everyday Life,” David John Frank, UC Irvine
Abstract: This paper draws on interviews with activists, officials, and academics in Egypt, Poland, and Thailand to examine the implementation of human rights in three country contexts.  The transformation of formal laws is just one dimension of a wider process.  There is also implementation.  I find three main processes that carry human rights into everyday life: trainings, partnerships, and direct service delivery.

“The Promise of Shifting Human Rights from a Legal to a Sociological Framework,” Elizabeth Heger Boyle, University of Minnesota
Abstract: The fundamental premise of human rights is that every individual is entitled to enjoy basic human dignity. Currently, human rights rest on legal principles and structures. Americans, including sociologists, tend to view rights parochially, as something outside US borders. This paper calls on US sociologists to see the human rights implications of their own work and to embrace a sociological perspective on human rights. A sociological perspective would interrogate the basis for the legitimacy of human rights and broaden the human rights field to focus on structures rather than “bad guys,” civil society rather than states, and empirical evidence rather than aspirational ideals. I explain why this would be beneficial both for promoting human dignity and for the field of sociology.

“Repertoires of Practice in Human Rights NGOs: The Role of the Law,” Monika Krause, London School of Economics

Abstract: This paper examines how international human rights organizations make decisions about how to allocate resources, and how to manage their commitments to specific causes, specific people, and specific territorial units. Based on 40 in-depth interviews with program managers in a range of international human rights organizations, the paper discusses the role of organizational practices and routines in shaping resource allocation.  Building on but departing from earlier accounts, which modelled human rights work as a “market of information”, it argues that a broad but limited repertoire of accepted practices shape how organizations respond to the world. I show how units of distribution built into organizational structures, such as themes and countries of operations affect decisions about priorities and how perceived levers in the environment attract attention and resources in human rights work. The role, which the law and legal instruments play in the work of international rights organizations is shaped by its perception as a lever towards change, and in particular towards measurable change.

“Stories of Resisting Invention: Human Rights and Islamic Tradition in History,” Hassan Abdel Salam, Dartmouth College

Abstract: How have human rights and Islamic tradition come to be seen as oppositional in the contemporary period? Drawing on historical sociological approaches, I identify three interrelated factors: (1) The medieval Islamic scholarly culture of resisting invented traditions; (2) a period of colonialism by Western powers that predisposed Muslim populations to perceive human rights as an imperialist instrument; and (3) the emergence of terrorist attacks perpetrated by self-identified Muslims that led to discourses dividing Muslim populations as “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims.” In the medieval period, Islamic jurists and scholars deliberately policed the rise of invented traditions (bid’aa) contradicting the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) – “traditions” promulgated by emergent sects that were masquerading as legitimate Islamic theology and Islamic law. The jurists produced complex vetting systems to identify invented traditions, in turn bequeathing later periods with a culture of skepticism – an enduring influence lasting well into the contemporary period. This culture of skepticism was re-awakened during the post-colonial period by calls to replace colonial, Western legal and political traditions with Islamic legal and political structures. This re-awakening of the culture of skepticism was abetted by Muslim populations’ suspicion of Western powers’ calls for human rights (partly) due to the memory of colonialism and by “Western” double standards. With the twenty-first-century rise of spectacular terrorist attacks in Western nations, global discourses emerged that divided Muslim populations into “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims.” This divide furthered the perceived opposition between human rights and Islam: The “good Muslim” became associated with human rights, and the “bad Muslim” became associated with Islamic tradition. Within the context of these polarizing discourses, contemporary Islamic jurists continued the practice of resisting invented traditions – only now – unlike the medieval period – human rights became a new object of scrutiny and a potential source of undermining Islam.


Section on Human Rights. Human Rights and Law From Above and Below: Comparative Perspectives

Mon, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 512F

Session Submission Type: Paper Session 100min


Papers in this session will explore the relationship between law and human rights in comparative perspective–across social groups, between regional and national contexts, and in different historical periods. Questions addressed by the papers include how legal guarantees secure or fail to secure human rights, how human rights guarantees generate mobilization of law, and how human rights and legal consciousness mutually shape one another. This session is co-sponsored by the Section on Sociology of Law

Session organizer: Frank Munger, New York Law School

Presider: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, University of Michigan

Discussant: Kiyoteru Tsutsui, University of Michigan

“Inclusive Placemaking: Localizing Human Rights in Response to Global Urban Crises and Right-Wing Populism,” Jackie Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Abstract: Human rights are under increased threats as the world faces continued challenges of economic insecurity, financial volatility, climate change, and the rise of right-wing populist movements. At a time when global interdependence demands more intensive cooperation among national governments to address economic and environmental crises, nationalist tendencies are polarizing politics within and between countries. Although news headlines have focused on the rise of exclusionary and racist movements, there is evidence of significant popular mobilization around more inclusive, human rights claims. Because these movements challenge basic elements of the capitalist system, they get less traction in electoral contests and remain marginal to mainstream media and scholarly discourses. This paper explores the emergence of translocal networks of human rights advocates articulating place-based human rights claims in communities around the world. Amid new threats to human rights from far-right advances such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, there are rising demands for “the right to the city,” as people seek to reconcile the tensions between global and local politics and between economic globalization and community survival. I provide illustrations from this emergent right to the city movement, and consider its implications for our understandings of the evolution of global human rights.

“Too Much Pressure: The intended and unintended consequences of sousveillance,” Ori Swed, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract: Sousveillance, a surveillance from below on the government, has been acknowledged as an empowering civil society act that puts the government at check. With its increasing popularity in academic and popular circles came a need to better understand its implications, its intended and unintended consequences. It remains unclear if sousveillance is just another form of protest or like surveillance can incite compliance and panopticism. This question is important since unlike surveillance, where the powerful observe the weak, in sousveillance the power hierarchy is inverted. Using data from interviews, peace organizations reports, and open sources, I examine peace movements sousveillance on checkpoint missions in the West Bank, exploring the association between level of social pressure applied via sousveillance and the result of compliance or resistance. I argue that sousveillance can be panoptic and lead to compliance, and in this case improve human rights in the checkpoints. However, this is true only when the subjects observed feel they are not pressed too much. Too much pressure, in the form of aggressive or invasive sousveillance can easily trigger resistance and in some cases backfire, becoming counterproductive.

“A Problem of Humanity”: The Human Rights Framework and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” Michael Rosino, University of Connecticut

Abstract: While the historical and ongoing symbolic and material inequalities and violence faced by African Americans can be understood as a human rights violation, the efficacy of the human rights framework for addressing racial injustice in the U.S. remains contested. In this paper, I examine the relationship between the emergence and dominance of the geopolitical doctrine of human rights and the struggle for racial justice in the United States. Through historical, legal, and sociological analysis of relevant issues and cases, I discern the benefits and limitations of the human rights framework for achieving racial justice and elucidate dynamics between relevant institutional, political, and social actors. Ultimately, I argue that the human rights framework opens up pathways for symbolic, information, and accountability politics conducive to combating racial injustice, particularly in regard to overt manifestations of racial oppression and violence, but that enduring issues such as the role of the state in racial politics and domination and discursive features of the human rights framework present significant hindrances.

“Secular Global Elites? Religious Identities, Context-Based Knowledge, and Meaning-Making Processes within UN Spaces,” Shanna Corner, University of Notre Dame

Abstract: Despite their differing vantage points, both world society scholars and secularism scholars rely on two false dichotomies. As a result, they over-estimate and under-examine the role of religion in the discourse and strategies of actions (Spillman 1995; 2012) employed by central United Nations officials, who work within UN human rights legal bodies. First, they rely on and perpetuate an overly rigid dichotomy between secular, modern “transnational elites” (Merry 2005), who work within global-level spaces, and “authentic,” “traditional,” and potentially religious, local people and spaces (Omer 2015; Terman 2016). Second, many of these scholars take for granted that the presence of religious actors is largely limited to the “civil” sphere of “global society,” while treating the “governmental” sphere as a uniformly rationalist space (Bush 2007). This undermines their abilities to recognize and incorporate into analyses important ways that varying contextually grounded religious identities and knowledge of religion-state relationships held by these UN “elites” influence meaning making processes they employ. Yet, these factors help to shape both the internal meaning-making within these UN bodies and their external engagement with government representatives. To illustrate this, I examine the discourse of the treaty body that monitors that United Nations’ main convention on women’s rights.

Section on Human Rights. The State of Human Rights across Different Contexts and Business Meeting

Mon, August 14, 8:30 to 9:30am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 520A

Session Submission Type: Refereed Roundtable 60min


Papers in this roundtable session explore the state of human rights in a domestic context, within an international body, and cross-nationally. Respectively, they explore the enforcement of human rights law in the U.S., how the UNHCR responded to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, and cross-national variations in providing protections to internationally displaced population.

Organizer: Lynette Chua

“Para-Sociology: Policymaking as a Parallel Site for Sociological Analysis” Angela Elena Fillingim, University of California at Irvine

Abstract: This paper draws upon a qualitative analysis of Congressional hearings pertaining to the enforcement of U.S. human rights law. While conducting research, I was struck by the omnipresence of sociological in policy debates. Not that the discipline itself was present in the hearings, rather, I found that hearing participants engaged in evaluations of a foreign society that paralleled sociological analysis, but lacked the academic staging, or what I call “para-sociology.” In this paper, I develop the concept of para-sociology as it has appeared in my own work. To do this, I draw upon data from three case studies to show that despite changes in the partisan control of the executive and legislature, actors engaged in an analysis that paralleled sociological debate when deciding if and how to enforce U.S. human rights law. I show that unsettled ideational contexts, coupled with a lack of firsthand experience were key factors shaping actors’ engagement with para-sociology. Further, I show that actors engaged in a focused analysis of the dynamic relationship between history and the then immediate environment, a key concern of sociological inquiry. I conclude by suggesting other places were para-sociology may manifest.

“Know the Reports, Know the Organization: UNHCR and the Syrian Crisis,” Nir Rotem, University of Minnesota

Abstract: Humanity, impartiality, confidentiality, and neutrality are universal principles of humanitarianism, guiding its activity while defining its very essence. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognizes these principles, and attempts to follow them by way of implementation in its different programmes, the Syrian one included. Nonetheless, principles represent values and thus are different from actual knowledge and practice. This space of possibilities for a conversion of knowledge between values and practice stands at the center of this paper. Applying a Sociology of Knowledge perspective, UNHCR activity around the Syrian crisis is explored based on mission statements and annual reports. Broader context is provided by examining the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), a “broad regional partnership strategy,” which brings together more than 200 organizations responding to the Syria Crisis under the leadership of UNHCR and The United Nations Development Programme. Put together, such documents provide an insight into the institutional logic(s) that were engraved in them, associated with distinct habitus. Thus, it is a case where two patterns of knowledge meet. Their possible inosculation can teach about the changing nature of development and humanitarian aid in the face of crisis and beyond.

“Cross-national Variations in Protections for Internationally Displaced Persons,” Ralph Ittonen Hosoki, University of California at Irvine

Abstract: Using the newly completed Immigration Policies in Comparison (IMPIC) project’s data on policies for refugees, asylum seekers, and humanitarian protection status recipients, this study employs fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) to supplement time-series cross-sectional (TSCS) analysis to analyze the determinants of cross-national variations in codified protections by type of internationally displaced population. The study’s findings suggest that because internationally displaced persons, as a group, are socially constructed as typically being both “non-threatening” to national interests and “deserving” by virtue of members’ inability to fully exercise agency, world cultural linkages matter for legal protections. However, world cultural embeddedness matters in different ways for cross-national variance in protections for each of these subgroups. These findings shed light on the non-monolithic contours of the international normative protections regime for internationally displaced populations, and invites further inquiry into the variegated nature of the protections regime or even the emergence of a “new” one for subgroups of or sub-policy dimensions for internationally displaced populations. 

“You’re invited!” Human Rights Section Reception & Meeting Information

Joint Reception: Section on Crime, Law, and Deviance; Section on Human Rights; and Section on Sociology of Law

Sunday, August 13, 6PM – 9PM
Hotel William Grey, 421 Rue Saint Vincent, Montreal
Session Submission Type: Reception
Invitation: Section Members of Crime, Law & Deviance, Human Rights and Sociology of Law

Section on Human Rights Business Meeting

Mon, August 14, 9:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 520A
Session Submission Type: Business Meeting 

Member Announcements 

Calls for Papers

 Special Issue on “Ethnographic and Life Story Methods in Human Rights Research”

Lacey Caporale, Guest Editor

The editors of Societies Without Borders: Human Rights and the Social Sciences (SWB)—a double-blind, peer-reviewed, open-source electronic journal devoted to making human rights scholarship accessible to a global audience—invite authors to submit manuscripts for a special issue on “Ethnographic and Life Story Methods in Human Rights Research.”

Studying human rights through ethnographic and life story methods provides a unique and valuable approach to understanding the realities of human rights violations and global injustice. The focus of this special issue will allow for marginalized narratives to be heard and recognized by a global audience. Particularly, ethnographic and life story methods provide the opportunity for diverse voices to impact human rights literature, while at the same time providing human rights scholars the opportunity to learn directly from those experiencing injustice and marginalization. In this special issue we invite submissions that examine human rights using these qualitative methods. This topic will also allow Societies Without Borders to utilize its strengths as a space for research from within the academy or by practitioners in the field.

This special issue seeks papers, commentaries, notes from the field, as well as poetic, visual, and other expressions devoted to examining human rights with ethnographic or life story methods. This special issue will be released in April of 2019.

Any and all inquiries into human rights using ethnographic or life story methods in the social sciences are welcome. Some topics for consideration include but are not limited to:

  • Ethnographic and life story approaches to human rights scholarship:
    • Children’s rights
    • Migration
    • LGBT rights
    • Housing rights
    • Women’s rights, reproductive rights
    • Violence
    • Health
    • International justice
    • Free speech
    • Disability rights
  • Methodological considerations in human rights scholarship

The deadline for submission is October 1, 2018. Inquiries may be sent to Lacey Caporale at

Please submit manuscripts through the SWB Website and follow the SWB Submission Guidelines.

Submissions will be subject to the regular review process of SWB.


USC Law Professor Emily Ryo awarded the prestigious Carnegie Fellowship.


Democracy Convention III – August 2-6, 2017
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis Campus

The Democracy Conventions bring together policymakers, community leaders, movement intellectuals, and researchers working to strengthen democracy where it matters most: in the institutions and the daily life that constitute U.S. society. As the progressive reformer Robert M. La Follette wrote, “democracy is a life [that] involves constant struggle” in all sectors of society. The Democracy Convention recognizes the importance of each separate democracy struggle, as well as the need to unite them all in a common movement for democracy in the United States. More than a single event, therefore, the Democracy Convention houses nine conferences under one roof. This year, these will include the Community & Economic Democracy, Democratizing the Constitution, Earth Democracy, Education for Democracy, Global Democracy, Media Democracy, Peace & Democracy, Race & Democracy, and Representative Democracy conferences.

To register or to find more information, see

DAAD Trans-Atlantic Institute 2017

University of Minnesota, September 26-27

Reframing Mass Violence: Genocide and Memory Studies in Dialogue

As a sequel to the 7-day Summer Institute at the University of Bayreuth in 2016, this workshop will convene former participants and UMN PhD candidates who bring interdisciplinary commitments and concerns in the fields of genocide and memory studies, and who are interested in sharing their work with their peers internationally. Workshop coordination: Alejandro Baer (U.Minnesota) and Bernt Schnettler (U. Bayreuth)

Truth, Trials, and Memory: An Accounting of Transitional Justice in El Salvador and Guatemala

University of Minnesota, November 1-3.

The U. Minnesota Human Rights Program, in partnership with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and other centers, and faculty, will convene a diverse set of key actors to reanimate questions of truth and justice related to the internationally-sanctioned Truth Commissions on El Salvador and Guatemala that took place 25 and 20 years ago, respectively. This event will examine the social, political and cultural impacts of the post-civil war search for truth and justice in Central America and the lingering effects not only of these destructive conflicts but of the accountability processes themselves.


Baer, Alejandro and Natan Sznaider. 2017. Memory and Forgetting in the Post-Holocaust Era. The Ethics of Never Again. Routledge.

Chakravarty, Anuradha. 2016. Investing in Authoritarian Rule: Punishment and Patronage in Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts for Genocide Crimes. Cambridge University Press- Studies in Law and Society.

Frank, David John, and Dana M. Moss. 2017. “Cross-National and Longitudinal Variations in the Criminal Regulation of Sex, 1965 to 2005.” Social Forces 95(3): 941-69.

Ryo, Emily. 2017. “The Promise of a Subject-Centered Approach to Understanding Immigration Noncompliance” 5 Journal on Migration and Human Security (5)285-296.

Ryo, Emily. 2017. “Legal Attitudes of Immigrant Detainees.” Law & Society Review 51: 99-131.

Ryo, Emily. 2017. “On Normative Effects of Immigration Law.” Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties 13: 95-135.

Sutton, Barbara. 2017. “Beauty in Places of Horror: Testimonies of Women Survivors of Clandestine Detention Centers in Argentina.” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America (Spring): 29-32.

[1] Diner, Dan. “Negative Symbiose. Deutsche und Juden nach Auschwitz.” In Ist der Nationalsozialismus Geschichte?, edited by Dan Diner. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1987.

[2] Rabinbach, Anson. “The Challenge of the Unprecedented. Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide”, In: Simon-Dubnow-Institute Yearbook, Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 2005.

[3] See

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Deadline for Nominations – Human Rights Section Award: March 1st

Friendly reminder about nominations for the section awards:

ASA Human Rights Section Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

The Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award Committee of the ASA Section on Human Rights is now accepting submissions for the 2017 Human Rights Book Award. The award recognizes books published in the last two years (2015 or 2016) that demonstrates the most thoughtful, competent, or innovative analysis of a theoretical or empirical issue that is germane to the Section on Human Rights’ main interests (for a description of the section, see  Books that either intervene in ongoing debates or fill gaps in the literature are especially encouraged.  In light of the pluralism of the section, the committee welcomes books from a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. All books must be nominated, and the committee encourages self-nominations and nominations of work by others. Nominations should include a written statement, no longer than 2 pages, explaining the book’s contribution to the social scientific analysis of human rights. The award will be presented to the winner at the Section on Human Rights Business Meeting.

To be nominated, please send a nomination letter and a copy of the book to *all members* of the Award Committee by *March 1, 2017*.

*The 2017 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award Committee:*

Wade Cole, University of Utah (chair) ; Eric Larson, Macalester College ; Wes Longhofer, Emory
University, . Questions may be directed to Wade Cole.

ASA Human Rights Section Best Scholarly Article Award

The Best Scholarly Article Award Committee in Human Rights is now accepting submissions for the 2017 Best Scholarly Article Award. The award recognizes
an article published in the last two years (2015 or 2016) that demonstrates the most thoughtful, competent, or innovative analysis of a theoretical or
empirical issue that is germane to the Section on Human Rights’ main interests (for a description of the section, see  Articles that either intervene in ongoing debates or fill gaps in the literature are especially encouraged.  In light of the pluralism of the section, the committee welcomes articles from a range of theoretical and methodological approaches.   All articles must be nominated, and the committee encourages self-nominations and nominations of work by others. Nominations should include a written statement, no longer than a page, explaining the article’s contribution to the social scientific analysis of human rights. The award will be presented to the winner at the Section on Human Rights Business Meeting.

To be nominated, please send a nomination letter and an electronic copy of the article to *all members* of the Award Committee by *March 1, 2017*

*The 2017 ASA Human Rights Section Best Article Award Committee:*

Robin Stryker, University of Arizona (chair) ; Kim L. Scheppele, Princeton University ; Chris
Roberts, University of Minnesota . Questions may be directed to Robin Stryker.

ASA Human Rights Section Graduate Student Paper Award

The Graduate Student Paper Award Committee of the ASA Section on Human Rights is now accepting submissions for the 2017 Graduate Student Paper
Award. This award goes to the author of the best paper on human rights written by a graduate student or students, as deemed by the Committee. The
Committee will accept sole-authored and multiple-authored papers as long as the nominee is the lead or senior author. No collaborations between
students and faculty members will be accepted. Eligible student authors include masters or doctoral students who are currently enrolled or who
graduated no earlier than December 1, 2016. The competition is open to both published and npublished article-length papers (roughly 25 double-spaced
pages, without tables or references) written in the last two years (2015 or 2016). Only one award will be given.

The Committee will select the paper that demonstrates the most thoughtful, competent, or innovative analysis of a theoretical or empirical issue that
is germane to the Section on Human Rights’ main interests (for a description of the section, see Papers should be grounded in the social scientific analysis of human rights. Papers that either intervene in ongoing debates or fill gaps in the literature are especially encouraged. The Committee welcomes papers from a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. An award of $300 will be granted to reimburse part of the cost of attending the 2017 ASA Annual Meeting, and will be presented to the winner at the Section on Human Rights Business Meeting.

To be nominated, please send an electronic version of the paper to *all members* of the Graduate Student Paper Award Committee by *March 1, 2017*.
Self-nominations are encouraged.

*The 2017 Graduate Student Paper Award Committee:* Kiyoteru Tsutsui, University of Michigan (chair) ; Ya-Wen Lei, Harvard
University ; Christine Min Wotipka, Stanford University Questions may be directed to KiyoteruTsutsui.


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ASA Human Rights Section Newsletter – Spring 2017

Download a PDF version of the newsletter: humanrightssection_asa_spring2017newsletter

A Brief Message from the Editors

We appreciate everyone who contributed to this newsletter on human rights in a new era. The content included in this newsletter responds to the context of a Trump presidency and its national and international implications; the contributors provide insights into human rights research, teaching, and advocacy nationally and abroad. The contributors paint a picture of the social and intellectual obligations of sociologists to contend with the human, notion of rights and human rights in this era.

Please see the final page of this newsletter for information on how to submit your pieces, and thank you in advance!

Annie Isabel Fukushima, University of Utah
Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Ohio State University

Table Contents

Human Rights (Section) In a New Era – Thoughts from Your Section Chair – by Joachim J. Savelsberg, University of Minnesota


“Human Rights Scholarship in the Time of Trump” by Michael Schwartz, Stony Brook University

“What Is To Be Done? Response to Schwartz” by Louis Edgar Esparza, California State University-Los Angeles

“The Mexico City Policy: An Impediment to the Achievement of Women’s Right to Life” by Elizabeth Heger Boyle, University of Minnesota

“In Defense of Public Goods” by LaDawn Haglund, Arizona State University

“Using Sociology to Promote and Protect Human Rights” by Erik Larson, Macalester College

“Creating Inclusive Human Rights Classrooms” by Marie Berry, University of Denver

“Untitled” By James Rule, University of California, Berkeley

“Developments in Monitoring and Measuring Human Rights Violations” by Christopher N. J. Roberts, University of Minnesota

“Persistent Tensions: Human Rights and National Sovereignty in Socialist Venezuela” by Timothy M. Gill, Tulane University

Awards & Anouncements

2016 Section Awards

Awards and Announcements


Newsletter Submission Information

Human Rights (Section) In a New Era – Thoughts from Your Section Chair

by Joachim J. Savelsberg, University of Minnesota

Human rights scholars, like many, have been in a state of shock as of late. A growing number of nations openly dismiss basic principles of democracy, international solidarity and human rights. Turkey, the Philippines, Syria, and Russia are among them, and the forces that threaten the same principles are gaining ground in Western democracies as well, including the United States.

We are in shock all the more, as many expected global scripts of rationality and human rights to spread into all corners of the globe. And indeed, recent decades have witnessed systematic efforts to build institutions in response to grave human rights violations, a “justice cascade,” and an unprecedented wave of apologies by heads of state for injustices done in the names of their countries. Yet, denial has also been rampant, at times strategically planned in response to acknowledgment, and supported by a calculated reluctance to intervene.

The shock is further intensified as new trends are not just imposed from above, but at times supported by grassroots movements and tolerated by large segments of the population in many countries. It seems to me that we are facing a popular revolt against elites (yes, including scholars) and technocrats by those who feel that massive structural changes leave them on a downward trajectory, those who cannot hold their own in times of massive economic globalization and technological change. These times remind me of the 19th century industrial revolution, the structural transformation it constituted, the displacements it caused and the at times violent reactions, like those described by German playwright Gerhard Hauptmann in his “Die Weber” (about the 1840s violent uprisings of displaced weavers in Silesia).

In these times policy programs and political rhetoric become widely accepted that (1) dismiss knowledge, replacing it by ideological falsehood, (2) denigrate minorities and (3) advance protectionism. All three trends repeat developments of the 1930s in Germany, the country in which I was born, raised and educated. The denigration of minorities, its catastrophic outcome, foremost against Jews, is well known; “attitude is everything; knowledge is garbage” became a slogan in institutions of higher education; and employees from industries that benefitted from protectionist trade policies joined the Nazi party more than others.

What can we do? Most of us are U.S. citizens. Many of us are also members of social movements. And to us as engaged citizens, President Obama gave good advice in his farewell speech in Chicago, just two days ago as I was writing this text. I recommend rereading his speech. There is much we may want to take to heart.

But what can we do in our special role as scholars of human rights? We, after all, have tools to our avail that others are lacking. We must use our tools of scholarship to continue to observe, measure, and explain human rights violations and responses to them. My first sociology professor at the University of Cologne in the 1970s was René König, German émigré to Switzerland during what he called the 12 years of the so-called Thousand-Year Empire (yes, it was a short period, but the destruction during short periods can be beyond imagination). He insisted that we confront ideology with rigorous scholarship and social scientifically based knowledge. There are certainly different ways of knowing the world out there, but a real world there is, a world with human joy and suffering. We have to decide what methods of knowledge production we want to trust more than others. This decision is value-based, and I made my decision. I follow René König by pleading for methods of scholarship. Especially as human rights scholars, the current times increase our raison d’être. We have to live up to our obligation to generate knowledge about human rights, their abuses and their protections.

On a personal note, while our lives will be affected by recent political trends in the US and around the globe, they will not be absorbed by them. I, for one, am determined to continue to appreciate the blessings of my private life, all while living up to my obligations as a scholar and as a world citizen and a citizen of this country.

For us as an association I see two ways forward. First, let’s tap into our collective imagination. Some of you have responded imaginatively to my request for ideas on the monitoring of human rights violations in a new age of uncertainty and threat. This edition of our newsletter presents those contributions we received to our membership. I consider this a start, a collection of ideas that may bear rich fruit if we all take them seriously and follow up.

Second, let’s carry on with our year-to-year business. We have good things to look forward to in the life of our section, its newsletter and the 2017 Annual ASA Meetings in Montreal.

Regarding the newsletter, we have been served superbly well by Rusty Shekha in recent years, and we owe him great thanks. Rusty had to step down at this point for reasons we surely respect. He will be succeeded by an outstanding new editorial team, consisting of Hollie Nyseth Brehm at the Ohio State University ( and Annie Isabel Fukushima at the University of Utah ( I profoundly thank Annie and Hollie for agreeing to take on this job. As we move forward, please send any postings, such as announcements of recent publications, awards, or conferences to the new editors, as they detail above.

Further, we joined forces with the Section for the Sociology of Law to offer two co-sponsored panels at the 2017 Annual Meetings in Montreal. The topic will be: Human Rights and Law from Above and Below – Comparative Perspectives. One of these is an invited session, the other was open to submissions. Together they form a mini-symposium. The organizer of the open submission session is Frank Munger—great colleague, section member in both Human Rights and Law, and former editor of the Law & Society Review. In addition, we will hold our customary roundtables. The organizer of the roundtables is Lynette Chua of the University of Singapore. We trust that these roundtables will be at least as engaging as they were last year. Great thanks to Lynette and Frank! Also at the Annual Meetings, we have joined forces with the Section for the Sociology of Law and the Section on Crime, Law, and Deviance to organize what promises to be a spectacular party on the terrace of an old hotel (Hotel William Gray), a very manageable and most interesting walk through old Montreal from the conference site. We owe Eran Shor at McGill great thanks for identifying this site.

Again, let’s continue to make our section grow in size and relevance. It is an honor serving as your chair.

Human Rights Scholarship in the Time of Trump

by Michael Schwartz, Stony Brook University

I hope there will be many responses to Joachim Savelsberg’s invitation for section members to apply their evidential and analytic expertise to the task of answering the threats to human rights emanating from the Trump Administration. This can be an occasion when social scientists fulfill the mandate first articulated by W.E.B. Du Bois: that sociology should have as its mission “unleashing social truths,” “empowering change,” and “liberating humanity.”[1]

Toward that end, I want to point to some very narrow and applied work that already looms as instrumental in protecting (and hopefully even extending) human rights in “the Time of Trump.” This is not work I feel I am qualified to do; but my idea is that we all should be thinking in this way, and hope that by circulating these ideas, they will reach other scholars with the energy and expertise needed to implement them. That is, we need to act collectively to “unleash the social truths” that social science has to offer, and therefore empower the practitioners and activists who need these insights to defend or extend human rights.

So here are a couple of ideas about what kind of scholarship might be immediately useful:

The Trump Muslim Ban is going to be the subject of a sustained struggle, despite the resounding February 10 repudiation of Trump’s draconian Executive Order by the Ninth Circuit Court.[2] We can expect a whole raft of future moments, including some or all of the following: the evidentiary hearing (where the specific cases will have to be made); the various future appeals (where more conservative judges may be key); the now looming almost-certainty of a new Executive Order, which will need substantive challenge and on-the-ground resistance.

Despite the heartening mobilization of protest, legal challenge, and even state governments against this, there is nevertheless a dangerous lack of precision—or in many cases a lack of general information—on who has been impacted by the ban and in what ways it has harmed or endangered their welfare. And—maybe more important—tracing out the harmful human rights consequences of this or of a modified ban for the concentric circles of people in the U.S. and globally.

At least some of us are equipped to fill this evidential and analytic void. And if we can provide some clear answers, this work will be utterly central to the legal dispute—the Circuit Court decision[3] specifically mandates an investigation and adjudication of the economic and personal damage of the ban (and a comparison with its “beneficial” impact on “national security”). Nevertheless, the State of Washington, the ACLU, and the growing army of lawyers working the many cases have dreadfully fragmentary evidence.

We are in a position to provide comprehensive information that could be crucial to the judicial process. And this same information would be invaluable to the individuals and groups who are in the line of fire, all the activists mobilized to protect those impacted, and the broader public which is looking for ways to resist Trump’s attacks.

Here are a few of the important measurement issues that someone (or a research team) with real skill and expertise could help to answer:

  • How many people are in the pipeline for visas from the seven outcast countries—have already applied, but not yet granted—and where are they located? Is Homeland Security continuing to process them now that court injunction has been validated; or are they—in some venues—illegally imposing the ban?
  • How many current residents of the United States are here on student, visitor, or work visas from the outcast countries; how has the ban (or its threat) impacted their safety and welfare; and how can they be forewarned or forearmed against current or pending dangers?
  • What is the magnitude of U.S. business and personal travel for people from these countries; what is the magnitude of business and personal travel of U.S. residents/citizens to these countries? How disruptive is the reality or threat of the ban to their safety and welfare? How can they be informed of agencies or groups they can connect to?
  • Can we use already-developed research strategies to measure and analyze the full extent of disruption (to commerce, personal lives) that this ban can or would accomplish? Looking at the direct impact on those banned, on their families, on their businesses or occupations, and then outward to the people who rely (personally or economically) on this set of concentric circles? One example I know of was the cancellation of an already-planned academic conference on Middle East history and culture, a disruption of the lives and scholarship of hundreds of scholars, most of whom were not the direct targets of the ban.

Careful (or even quick but accurate) research on these and all the related issues will be very useful for the lawyers active in the (already) myriad legal cases being contested; allow the people directly and indirectly to contact each other and act collectively; and provide useful tools for rallying the broad opposition by demonstrating that these human rights violations reach right into most people’s lives.

And here is another, quite different, but also urgent application of our research skills. As the media are starting to report (not enough to be sure), Homeland Security has begun an onslaught of raids into Latino communities (unfortunately pioneered and defended by the Bush and Obama administrations), summarily detaining and deporting long-time residents (many with young children who are U.S. citizens) who have done nothing to provoke their expulsion.[4] The terrorized  communities have been organizing resistance to these raids, and there is real promise that this resistance can become the enactment of the sanctuary movement.

Human Rights (and particularly immigration) scholars have a great opportunity to supply usable knowledge to this resistance/sanctuary movement. The U.S. has a long history of immigration exclusion, as well as a long history of civil disobedience as a strategy for resisting various forms of expulsion. This history needs to be mined for useful insights into what succeeded and what failed in the past, and how these lessons can be applied to the current situation. This kind of work is exemplified by the superb David Bacon article circulated to the section by Bryan Rich.[5]  But this is only a start on what we need to do. We need to cull more insight from this history, and all become analysts of the many moments of resistance going on right now. Our analytics skills are needed to transmit lessons learned from one locale to others, as they try to defend communities against this developing reign of terror.

As social scientists we don’t often have an opportunity to contribute to “empowering change,” let alone “liberating humanity.” But, this is one of those moments. What we have to contribute can make a difference. And I think that Du Bois would say that when the opportunity appears, it becomes an obligation.

So I thank Joachim for creating a forum in which we can contribute, and I hope that the folks in the Human Rights section treat the opportunity as an obligation.

[1] Aldon Morris, The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. DuBois and the Birth of Modern Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).

[2] State of Washington et al v Donald J. Trump et al, “Motion for Stay of an Order…” Order No. 17-35105; D.C No 2:17-cv-00141 Filed February 9, 2017, found at

[3] Ibid.

[4] Democracy Now,  ‘ICE Raids Speed into Overdrive: Advocates Say Obama’s Deportations Reaching 100 MPH under Trump,” (February 2, 2017), found at .

[5] David Bacon, “What Donald Trump Can and Can’t Do to Immigrants,” NACLA Newsletter, (February 6, 2017), found at

What Is To Be Done? Response to Schwartz

by Louis Edgar Esparza, California State University-Los Angeles

The task of sociologists, and especially sociologists of human rights, has not changed, though it may now be more urgent. United States institutions violate international human rights standards and norms as a matter of course, though some may now worsen. Here I offer my colleagues suggestions for research, the classroom, and for us:

For Research:

Understand, conceptualize, and reconcile some well-known data regarding the US criminal justice system with international human rights standards, including the following stubborn trends:

  • The United States currently holds two million people behind bars;
  • That is more than any nation today;
  • That is more than any nation in history;
  • Of these, a disproportionate number are African American;
  • Work behind bars is remunerated below the federal minimum wage;
  • The United States continues to practice capital punishment;
  • The United States continues to practice solitary confinement;
  • The United States continues to hold individuals without trial;
  • The United States continues to collect personal data without a warrant;
  • The United States continues extrajudicial killing via drone strikes.

Use data on social indicators that reveal the place of the US among peers:

  • The United States ranks 24th of 36 OECD countries on share of women in government;
  • The United States ranks 29th of 36 OECD countries on life expectancy at birth;
  • The United States ranks 35th of 36 OECD countries on income inequality;
  • The US ranks 35th of 36 OECD countries on rate of poverty;
  • 75% of OECD countries grant some form of paternity leave. The US is not among these;
  • The United States is the only OECD country that does not grant maternity leave for at least 12 weeks.

For the Classroom:

  • Inform classrooms of resources for undocumented, refugee, and immigrant students;
  • Make time to listen to students who are processing the changes undergoing in our society;
  • Place domestic human rights abuses in the context of US human rights abuses abroad;
  • Provide instruction on media literacy.

For Us:

  • Provide an unambiguous and unqualified defense of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), especially for marginalized peoples;
  • If you are placed in a situation where you are instructed to violate the UDHR, do not follow it;
  • Practice self-care;
  • If you have the resources, you may choose to donate to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or similar groups of your choice in your local area.

To End:

Two hundred people were arrested at the president’s inauguration on 20 January 2017. Many – including six journalists[1] – faced felony rioting charges, up to $25,000 in fines, and 10 years in prison.[2] Some of these charges have since been dropped, but this is part of a long trend in the criminalization of protest,[3] which now includes journalists. Resistance to worsening trends could use all the assistance possible.



[3] Esparza, Louis Edgar and Rhiannan Price. 2015. “Convergence repertoires: anti-capitalist protest at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.” Contemporary Justice Review.

The Mexico City Policy: An Impediment to the Achievement of Women’s Right to Life

by Elizabeth Heger Boyle, University of Minnesota

In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 580 women die from pregnancy-related complications for every 100,000 live births. For women in this region of the world, the lifetime chance of dying from pregnancy complications is 1 in 38. This reveals a violation of women’s basic right to life.

President Trump’s reinstatement and possible expansion on January 23 of the 1984 Mexico City Policy exacerbates this problem. The Mexico City Policy bans US aid to any organization that provides abortions (broadly defined) or even refers to abortion as an option for women. The Mexico City Policy was initially introduced under President Reagan and has been reinstated by all Republican presidents since then. George W. Bush exempted various services, such as post-abortion emergency treatment, from the ban, but Trump’s Executive Order made no such distinctions.

Ironically, over time, regions with high exposure to the Mexico City Policy have tended to have greater abortion rates, likely because access to modern contraception goes down when the policy is applied. Furthermore, abortion rates have not significantly decreased in the Global South since Reagan first instituted the policy, but they have declined notably in the Global North where there are no such restrictions. Apart from a lack of access to modern contraceptives, Trump’s expansive Executive Order could mean less funding for many hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting public health in many other realms as well.

There is no reason for reinstituting the Mexico City Policy—the 1973 Helms Amendment already prevents the use of US tax dollars for abortion-related services or devices domestically and abroad. It is important that we continue to press the new administration to ensure rather than impede women’s basic human rights.


Bendavid, Eran, Patrick Avila, and Grant Miller, “United States Aid Policy and Induced Abortion in Aub-Saharan Africa,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Sept. 27, 2011 (online publish date): Vol. 89, pp. 873-880C,

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2017.

Sedgh, Gilda, et al. 2016. “Abortion Incidence between 1990 and 2014: Global, Regional, and Subregional Levels and Trends.” The Lancet 388(10041): p. 258-267.

Suh, Siri. 2017.

In Defense of Public Goods

by LaDawn Haglund, Arizona State University

With the election of Donald Trump to highest office in the United States, it seems a new era has dawned. As sociologists of human rights, the range and depth of threats posed by the new administration are breathtaking. We as a society have much to lose: decades of environmental protections guarding the rights of current and future generations, safety nets designed to prevent illness or hardship from sinking people into total despair, checks on the power of the rich to extract disproportionate resources from our shared societal wealth while restricting the rights and remuneration of workers, and a large body of regulations enacted to help prevent discrimination against non-majority populations.

Though analyses of how we came to this point continue to flood both professional and social media, I would like to focus on one aspect that is not new, but is often ignored: the assault on public goods. By public goods, I do not mean narrowly-defined “pure public goods,” which can only be provided by the state (think military and public infrastructure). I am referring to public goods that could potentially be privatized, though not in ways that are accessible in a just and equitable manner (think education, health care, social security, or meaningful remunerative work).

Scholars of human rights will immediately see the parallels with fundamental human rights. Societies create public goods to support the normative ideals embodied in human rights because without them, life for both individuals and the community as a whole is degraded, undignified, and at times lethal. Countless dedicated activists, communities, legal advocates, and public servants achieved these protections, safety nets, checks, and regulations over the course of generations of struggle.

Notwithstanding current shortcomings in achieving the ideals laid out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is still possible to acknowledge the threats posed by the all-out assault on public goods waged by Congressional Republicans, right-wing media and think tanks, corporate lobbyists, and wealthy donors. This campaign—which has existed since the New Deal but gained traction with the “rollback neoliberalism” of Reagan and the 1994 Republican-dominated Congress—would have us ignore legitimate motivations for pursuing public goods. Instead, we are urged to rally against “government waste,” “burdensome regulations,” and “restrictions on liberty” while demonizing human vulnerability. These framing strategies are designed to win the hearts and minds of a critical mass of people so that the idea of a useless and rapacious state becomes a self-evident, common sense maxim.

Unfortunately, this strategy has blossomed into a full-blown offensive against public goods, and its proponents are now at the helm of the battleship. Sociologists are—implicitly or explicitly—at the center of the political storm, given their expertise in analyzing inequality, injustice, power, and privilege as they manifest along cleavages of race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion. This provides us with a unique opportunity to clarify not only how radical reversals of policy became possible, but also where and how they might be blocked, and how rights- and life-affirming alternatives might be advanced.

In Closing the Rights Gap, Robin Stryker and I asked several questions of relevance to this historical moment: “How is it that individuals and institutions come to accept a new set of norms or principles? When and why do they begin to act in ways that support these principles?” As with all social transformations, the current situation was brought on by identifiable actors who took concrete steps, utilizing a range of mechanisms and strategies, over time and in dialogue with existing political and institutional realities, to promote a set of norms reflecting their own goals, values, and interests. In this process, they sought to shape the perceptions and desires of the population at large around new normative frames that vilified state action, and to encourage people to act on those beliefs by supporting those who perpetuated the emergent discourses. From this point of view, our current situation did not originate with Donald Trump, nor is he the only agent of threat.

Similarly, the struggle to maintain the integrity of our hard-fought public goods, as well as to promote further spaces and processes where justice and dignity are upheld and fulfilled, is being waged by a range of actors intervening in analogous but opposite ways. Some of the mechanisms and strategies highlighted in our and others’ work include informational mechanisms geared toward providing evidence in support of a course of action (which, in the current zeitgeist, may include “alternative facts” and misinformation); symbolic mechanisms that employ framing or symbolism to inspire support (compare “Make America Great” baseball caps with “Pussyhats”); power-based mechanisms designed to mobilize pressure for change (lobbying and protest are common examples); legal mechanisms that utilize courts to uphold official norms; and cooperative mechanisms (such as dialogue and participatory spaces).

As sociologists, we have much to offer in all of these areas. As researchers, our role is crucial in asking the right questions, providing empirical evidence for the answers, and crafting solutions based on the best possible evidence. We can defend public goods by providing systematic, accessible evidence to the public, grassroots organizations, courts, Congress, and state legislatures that exposes the conditions that necessitate public goods, as well as documents the benefits they impart. While acknowledging the failings of our social institutions, we can illuminate the problems they are designed to address in ways that matter to people and appeal to our shared humanity. Otherwise, the dominant narrative of the rapacious state (and beneficent markets) will dominate.

Of course our work, and in fact much sociological inquiry, threatens those who benefit from existing injustices, and these actors have great incentives to cast aspersions on critics. As teachers, we must continue arming our students with critical reasoning skills and well-supported data and information, despite increasing attacks on the integrity of our scholarship by the media, “freedom schools,” and the privatization of education.

Yet, in the age of “alternative facts,” we can no longer expect our expertise to be enough. We also need counter-narratives to blanket assertions that the problem is the state. Policies and institutions such as the EPA, anti-discriminatory legislation, social safety nets, and shelters for vulnerable people – whether displaced, victimized, or otherwise at risk – did not arise out of thin air, or as some would have us believe, out of a desire to take money from hard working people. Moreover, creating a caring society is not the sole responsibility of charity organizations, but also of state actors and institutions working with communities. Alternative discourses of justice, compassion, and empathy that foreground the importance of public goods can restore the legitimacy of harnessing the state for societal wellbeing.

Narratives are also not enough, as our research indicates. Mobilization, legal challenges, and cooperative building of alternatives are also crucial. We are at a crossroads, where a multi-directional defense of public goods will be required to advance human rights. As scholars and teachers, we have much to offer in all of these areas, and a lot to lose if we stand by silently and watch our hard-sought knowledge be ignored, distorted, or dismissed. This period of crisis presents an opportunity to move beyond the glaring shortcomings of previous institutional and social arrangements to foster the emergence of a more just, inclusive, and rights-responsive society.

LaDawn Haglund is the author of Limiting Resources: Market-Led Reform and the Transformation of Public Goods (2010, Penn State Press) and co-editor (with Robin Stryker) of Closing the Rights Gap: From Human Rights to Social Transformation (2015, U.C. Press).

Using Sociology to Promote and Protect Human Rights

by Erik Larson, Macalester College 

The recent and potential dramatic electoral shifts fueled by right-wing populism in the United States and Europe pose challenges to human rights. Fundamentally, these outcomes challenge the universality of human rights, particularly as the basis for government action, favoring a more ethnonational understanding of rights protection and provision.

In such an environment, how can sociologists respond effectively? There are certainly instances in which our professional commitments correspond to human rights principles—threats to academic freedom such as silencing researchers from presenting findings among a community of scholars or denying scholars access to data are also instances of interfering with rights to opinion, expression, and assembly.

Beyond these instances, we may see our work of gathering and presenting data as vital to promoting the monitoring and realization of human rights. In doing so, we need not duplicate the efforts of organizations with core human rights missions. Their collection and documentation of violations and provision of this compiled information to organizations that review human rights practices will often be more efficient, immediate, and effective than what we as scholars could achieve through primary data collection.

Yet, we as individual scholars and a collective profession have much to offer. Drawing as much on the inspirational work of many colleagues as on my own research on the growth of indigenous rights as a transnational phenomenon, the following non-exhaustive list catalogs some of these contributions that sociologists can continue to make:

  • Examining primary data in illuminating ways. Whether drawing on methods of analysis that can help uncover unexamined relationships or deploying theoretical ideas to provide new explanations, sociologists studying human rights can generate insights that provide focus to understanding the situation of human rights.
  • Understanding social determinants of rights realization. Moving beyond the immediacy of rights violations, examining the conditions that result in achievements of human rights can reveal a range of mechanisms that affect how individuals pursue rights and how other actors, such as governments and corporations, structure activities in ways that more effectively consider the human and distributive consequences of action.
  • Viewing situations from a human rights framework. Connecting the social conditions that we study—the gaps and inequalities—to human rights ideals could demonstrate the connections between people in different situations that much contemporary political rhetoric seeks to deny.
  • Seeing organizational processes that affect human rights. Acknowledging that not only governments are relevant human rights actors and examining how private sector and civil society organizational processes connected to organizational environments, networks, and movements can uncover means through which unsupportive government actions can be countered effectively.
  • Finally, explaining how human rights have become more influential. The history of human rights shows both increasing institutionalization in the international environment and autonomy on the part of human rights experts, suggesting that there is potential for new alliances to continue to challenge threats to the well-being and dignity of people.

Creating Inclusive Human Rights Classrooms

Adapted from Sie Center QuickFacts “Creating Inclusive Classrooms in International Studies

by Marie Berry, University of Denver

We enter 2017 in a highly charged political moment. There are important conversations happening at universities across the U.S. about creating and preserving our classrooms and campuses as spaces where all students—regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, immigration status, citizenship, or any other category of difference—feel welcome and encouraged to learn. At many colleges, it has also become apparent that international studies schools and classrooms face a series of unique issues related to inclusiveness and diversity—issues which likely apply to many human rights classrooms as well. These issues range from the fact that most students in international studies programs in the U.S. are from the West (and advantaged backgrounds), yet many aim to do work in the Global South among the most disadvantaged, to the fact that many international studies topics (e.g., development, human rights) have been accused of (neo)colonial orientations. While these issues have long been important, the current political environment has created an acute need to address them because many members of university communities—students, staff, and faculty—feel under threat.

Together with colleagues, I solicited feedback from a small group of current Master’s students on simple but potentially impactful ways that all faculty can begin to work towards creating inclusive classrooms where all students feel welcome and encouraged to learn about global issues. Based on the feedback from students, I offer this initial list with the recognition that it is not sufficient or comprehensive; rather it offers points of entry where faculty teaching on international issues can easily infuse principles of diversity and inclusion into their courses.

  1. Diversify assigned readings:

Work to ensure our course readings reflect a diversity of perspectives and authors from different backgrounds—including women, people of color, and scholars from the Global South. This is particularly important in international studies courses in order to actively disrupt the tendency to anoint Western scholarship and perspectives as the gold standard. Instead, ask whether there are places on our syllabi where local voices, scholars from marginalized groups, and scholars from the regions under discussion could be assigned. Even when these voices do not dispute traditional scholarship, normalizing diverse voices on our syllabi can allow more students to recognize their backgrounds as generating useful and legitimate perspectives on an issue. This tool is a useful way to get a quick estimate of diversity.

  1. Talk explicitly about inequality, power and privilege (without burdening those on the margins):

Many students of international studies—and human rights in particular—aspire to careers in the global arena. In order to do this work effectively, many are eager to better understand their own privilege and bias. One way to integrate these discussions into a variety of courses is to center the idea of intersectionality—the recognition that all people have multiple identities that are bound up with power hierarchies and that intersect and overlap in ways that create discrimination, advantage, or both in different situations. There are many resources to help facilitate these discussions, which require preparation (see here to get started and watch Kimberlé Crenshaw’s new Ted Talk). These conversations are important for white, Western students aiming to do work in the Global South in the current political environment. They are also important for students of color who may be interested in joining the Foreign Service or working for international human rights NGOs, where they may experience unique challenges related to their own identity (see an excellent related discussion here).

Further tip: be conscious of not putting the burden of this discussion on students with marginalized identities. This can make them feel like “tokens of diversity” being asked to do more emotional and intellectual labor than those occupying dominant identities, such as their white, cis-gender, straight, Christian, U.S.-citizen classmates.

  1. Bring current events—including domestic ones—into the classroom:

While most international studies (and many human rights) classes focus on the international, students are eager to bring recent domestic examples into the classroom as well. Perhaps more urgently than ever, what international studies faculty have been teaching for years—on fascism, authoritarianism, political violence, politicized ethnicity, populism, human rights, and so forth—can no longer pretend to only apply to “over there.” For instance, classes that highlight authoritarian regimes would do well to integrate class discussions on how current political discourse in the U.S. shares (or doesn’t share) similarities with the rise of authoritarian regimes elsewhere.

  1. Model inclusive language on your syllabi and in your lectures:

Language is a powerful tool for either facilitating or combating inequality, discrimination, and oppression. As such, here are some preliminary tips informed by suggestions from our graduate students:

  • Consider adding a note to our syllabi affirming all gender expressions and identities and encouraging students to reach out to us if they wish to be referred to by a different pronoun;
  • Avoid asking students questions about their race or ethnicity—questions like, “what are you?”—even if asked with good intentions—can make students feel singled out and uncomfortable;
  • Note any accommodations for students with differing abilities, medical issues, religious observances, and so forth. Invite students to talk to us if they feel unsafe or discriminated against in any way;
  • Avoid using phrases like, “Hi guys” or “us Americans” or “that’s insane” as each phrase is exclusionary or dismissive in certain ways;
  • While this may seem obvious, avoid referring to people as “illegals” or “illegal immigrants”; “undocumented” or “unauthorized” are preferred terms;
  • Look to work by Gary Howard and others for additional ways of approaching inclusive language.


These suggestions are intended as accessible “first steps” for faculty to create more inclusive classrooms. After the recent spate of Executive Orders, many students also now need specific resources, ranging from advice on their visas or work status, to guidance on whether they should participate in civil resistance efforts, to targeted mental health care resources like crisis hotlines or counseling services. Since faculty (and our syllabi) are often a first point of contact with students, we have an important opportunity to signal our willingness to serve as an ally and resource. Initiatives like We Stand With Our Students provide students the names and contact information of faculty allies and make coordinating efforts to support our students during these difficult times more straightforward, and I invite further suggestions.


By James Rule, University of California, Berkeley

For many Americans, the most catastrophic loss of innocence concerning their country’s human rights policies came in the spring of 2004, with publication of photos of Iraqi captives under military detention at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.    Time will not soon erode the impact of those images—and I emphasize that images is what I have in mind here. The photo of the hooded prisoner forced to stand for hours in a precarious position, or the one of a female U.S. military guard holding an Iraqi prisoner on a leash—these stripped away all doubt about the lengths American forces were prepared to go in prosecuting their ill-conceived and ill-fated invasion of Iraq. Once these photos started appearing on front pages, everything changed. By all accounts, this country’s standing in world opinion suffered sweeping collapse—from which, some would say, it has never recovered.

Note the gap between the force of those images and that of other forms of intelligence about American actions in Iraq. Since at least the middle of 2003, reliable reports had been emanating from Iraq of unconscionable (and under international law, illegal) treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Among those making such reports was the International Red Cross. In July of that year Amnesty International cited the U.S. military for subjecting prisoners there to “cruel, inhumane and degrading” conditions. In November, AP distributed a report by reporter Charles J. Hanley documenting abuse of U.S. prisoners in Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib.

Early in 2004, the military itself began to acknowledge questions about such abuse. On January 13, one of the MPs in duty at Abu Ghraib reported abusive actions to military investigators. Three days later, the U.S. Command in Baghdad issued a one-paragraph press release on such an investigation. Three days after that Ricardo Sanchez, the Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, ordered a criminal investigation. Things moved slowly. Sanchez later noted, under oath in Congressional testimony, that “Red Cross reports warning of abuse … [at] Abu Ghraib … became lost in the Army’s bureaucracy and weren’t adequately addressed.” But at the end of April, CBS’s “60 Minutes” and The New Yorker published the graphic photos that no one can forget. After that, the scandal, including both the original events and the subsequent reluctance to act on them, became national and international obsessions.

We social scientists seek out, document, and analyze empirical observations—often in the hope of convincing our fellow citizens that the things we focus on are not as they should be. Here we are not too different from investigative journalists, human rights workers, or activists representing disfavored groups. To pursue our roles, we put forward models of a better world, and we expect others to be as disturbed by discrepancies between these visions and the facts we document as we are. But if we are candid, we need to admit that we do not in any complete way understand why some of the discrepancies revealed by research ignite the public consciousness, and other are simply ignored. Nor do we know why images—or at least, the right images, at the right moments—galvanize publics in ways that the most thoroughly-researched reports often do not.

This is no counsel of despair, for I hold there is a positive conclusion to be drawn.    Shouldn’t we be paying attention to the complex social chemistry that determines what makes particular images—and for that matter, particular research studies—electrifying in particular contexts?  Can’t we find ways of analyzing what makes a particular image, or a particular report, capable of searing itself into public attention?  We know that moments exist when a single spark can set off a conflagration of public indignation or action. But we don’t know what distinguishes those moments.

Developments in Monitoring and Measuring Human Rights Violations

by Christopher N. J. Roberts, University of Minnesota

Monitoring and measuring human rights violations are among the most crucial—and challenging—of activities for human rights researchers. Human rights violations typically occur beyond the gaze of researchers, activists, and monitoring groups. They are often perpetrated in locations that are too dangerous, geographically remote, or politically inaccessible for the collection of “fresh” data on the ground as those abuses occur. But developments in digital technology, the ubiquity of camera-equipped mobile devices, and widespread access to the Internet offer new opportunities for the production, collection, and analysis of data surrounding human rights violations.

This commentary provides a brief overview of several new “open source investigation” initiatives that have already transformed the way that many journalists and human rights organizations investigate violations. Harnessing these developments in data collection and making use of them in the research context raises its own challenges. Still, there are enormous opportunities for sociologists of human rights to innovate in the theory, method, and analytic techniques associated with the monitoring and measuring of human rights violations.

Never before have individuals so isolated had such a large global audience to turn to for help. Today, people in conflict zones post videos, photographs, and offer narrative accounts of human rights abuses on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatsApp. A number of organizations seek to offer guidance for those creating user generated content. WITNESS, for instance, is one such initiative that focuses its efforts on training citizen activists around the world in the safe and effective use of video to document and expose human rights violations around the world.

The ability to use such data to improve the lives of the abused and hold accountable the appropriate violators, however, depends on the intensive efforts of investigators who must authenticate, process, analyze, and interpret the staggering quantities of data that are now publicly available on the Internet. To date, journalism collaboratives and human rights organizations have taken the lead. First Draft News and the Verification Handbook, for instance, are resources for journalists, activists, academics, and aid providers for authenticating, handling and using user-generated content. Similarly, Citizen Evidence Lab is an initiative that offers a series of guidelines, publications and studies oriented towards advancing best-practice techniques for authenticating user-generated content. Its partner-organization Amnesty International has already employed digital verification techniques to authenticate user generated evidence and corroborate accounts of civilian killings in Syria as well as the existence of mass graves in Burundi.

Although it is increasingly common for journalists and activists to put to use user-generated digital content, one of the most innovative and noteworthy projects involving researchers and students is The Human Rights Investigations Lab at UC Berkeley. Students who participate in this lab learn cutting edge user-generated data authentication techniques from leaders in the field. Using specialized software and querying tools, they systematically gather and process evidence associated with human rights and humanitarian violations in order to be of use for researchers and criminal prosecutions.

These developments in data collection hold enormous promise for sociologists whose research involves the monitoring and measuring of human rights violations. At these early stages, however, a great deal of theoretical and methodological groundwork lies ahead for social scientists who wish to leverage successfully such data in their own research.

Persistent Tensions: Human Rights and National Sovereignty in Socialist Venezuela

by Timothy M. Gill, Tulane University

In 1998, Venezuelan citizens elected their first leader outside of the two-party system that dominated the country since 1958: Hugo Chávez. On the campaign trail, Chávez attracted support from the popular classes by promoting the construction of a new constitution that would recognize all sectors and racial/ethnic groups, and would endorse the idea of a participatory democracy. Chávez would also promise to tackle extensive socio-economic inequality. In office, Chávez would indeed construct a new Venezuelan Constitution; initiate missions designed to combat social problems including illiteracy and lack of access to health care; and he would eventually embrace socialism. Under the latter move, Chávez asserted that Venezuela must encourage a truly democratic and communal form of governance.

At the international level, Chávez trumpeted the creation of a multi-polar world-system that would reduce U.S. imperial influence. Indeed, U.S. global power especially concerned the Venezuelan president as dissident military officers and opposition activists temporarily deposed Chávez in April 2002. In its wake, Chávez would blame the U.S. for allegedly funding and providing support to the individuals that carried out the overthrow, and he would recurrently criticize the U.S. for violating Venezuelan national sovereignty by attempting to influence domestic political affairs. While the U.S. rejected the accusation that it supported the coup, it recognized that some groups that participated in the event had received some support from U.S. government agencies (OIG 2002).

Although citizens continued to elect Chávez, and then his successor President Nicolás Maduro, he faced a spate of criticism. Critics contended that the socialists stifled private enterprise, targeted opposition politicians, and, despite enacting several government missions, transgressed an array of human rights. Critics have also portrayed the socialists as paranoid autocrats that invent conspiracies in order to justify support for draconian policies.

In two recent publications, I have examined how the Venezuelan government sought to contain U.S. influence within the country by prohibiting foreign funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). First, I have shown how Venezuela has pursued legislation targeting NGOs since 2006 (Gill 2016). It would take the Venezuelan government until 2010, though, to pass legislation that criminalized foreign funding for NGOs that promote – ambiguously phrased – political rights. In that article, I show that Chávez had remained susceptible to criticism from foreign state leaders and domestic NGO representatives in 2006, and thus decided to shelve the law. In 2010, though, I show that Venezuela had become immersed within a global subfield involving countries that were also pursuing similar legislation, including Belarus and Russia, and this sort of maneuver had become normalized within this newfound global milieu. What is more, the Venezuelan government had severed relations with formerly critical countries and NGOs.

In a second publication, I have drawn attention to how Venezuela continues to deploy a discourse of national sovereignty and a discourse of human rights depending on particular goals (Gill 2017). As it involved legislation targeting NGOs, for example, the government utilized a discourse of national sovereignty. In defense of the legislation, Chávez quite plainly stated that that “[Venezuela is] a sovereign country … [and there are] political parties, NGOs, personalities of the counterrevolution that continue being financed [by] the US empire … I implore you to pass a very strict law to impede this.”

In recent months, President Maduro has continued to prioritize the idea of national sovereignty. Amid a food and medicinal shortage, Maduro has refused to accept assistance from several countries and institutions. And when criticized by, for example, the U.S. for its handling of the political-economic crisis, government leaders have demanded the U.S. respect Venezuelan national sovereignty and not meddle in its affairs.

Despite this continued emphasis on national sovereignty, I have also shown how the government has, at times, advanced a discourse of human rights. Venezuelan government leaders indeed routinely testify that no other country respects human rights more than Venezuela. Leaders also continue to use the language of human rights to criticize foreign governments, including Israel and the U.S. In July 2014, for example, Venezuela condemned Israeli military attacks within Palestine, and sent medicine and clothing to the country. President Maduro has also recurrently criticized U.S. foreign policy efforts in places such as Libya and Syria, as well as the extrajudicial murder of unarmed African-Americans throughout the country.

Tensions between human rights and national sovereignty visibly persist in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government has provided economic assistance to a number of countries throughout the world including Haiti and Nicaragua, yet it has guarded its own sovereignty so close that it has refused assistance amid its own crisis. The government has also rejected the notion that it hampers human rights by targeting NGOs, and has asserted that it must restrict NGO operations to bolster its own national sovereignty. At the same time, it has leveled human rights-oriented criticisms at a number of countries.

The existence of these tensions is not limited to Venezuela. The U.S. displays its own issues. It criticizes Venezuela, but it has failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as several senators assert that the U.S. should not answer to anyone outside its borders. These dynamics will undoubtedly persist well into the 21st century, and it will, first and foremost, behoove citizens to hold their domestic leaders accountable to the standards they set.


Gill, Timothy M. 2016. “The Venezuelan Government and the Global Field: The Legislative Battle over Foreign Funding for Nongovernmental Organizations.” Sociological Forum 31(1): 29-52.

Gill, Timothy M. 2017. “Unpacking the World Cultural Toolkit in Socialist Venezuela: National Sovereignty, Human Rights, and anti-NGO Legislation.” Third World Quarterly, forthcoming.

Office of Inspector General (OIG). 2002. A Review of U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela November 2001 – April 2002. Report Number 02-OIG-003.

2016 Section Awards

Best Graduate Student Paper Award

Roberts, Louisa. “Changing Global Attitudes Toward Homosexuality: The Influence of Global and Region Specific Cultures, 1981-2012.”

Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Book Award

Holzer, Elizabeth. The Concerned Women of Budburam: Refugee Activists and Humanitarian Dilemmas. Cornell University Press.

Best Scholarly Article Award

Teeger, Chana. 2016. “Both Sides of the Story: History Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” American Sociological Review 80(6)1175-1200.

Awards and Announcements

Manisha Desai was the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s 2016 Faculty Mentor of the Year, New England.

After spending several weeks as a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Bandana Purkayastha completed her first month as a Fulbright-Nehru scholar at the University of Hyderabad. She is gathering data on her project Water, Inequalities and Rights.

Anjana Narayan and Bandana Purkayastha have been awarded a 2017-2018 Global Religion Research Initiative grant to set up an interdisciplinary, multi-country coalition of scholars who will study living Islam and Hinduism from an intersectional perspective. The scholars from the US, India and Pakistan will also examine appropriate methodologies for studying lived religions.

Annie Isabel Fukushima is a member of the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects, a transnational feminist collective of artist, scholars, and activists. They were awarded $75,000 to implement research, pedagogies, and digital exhibitions entitled, “Migratory Times,” in the Colombia, Denmark, Philippines, South Korea, and the United States.


Adur, Shweta and Purkayastha, Bandana. 2017.  “Claiming ‘Tradition,’ Naming the Cause: Examining the Language of Social Identity among Queer South Asians in U.S.” Journal of South Asian Diaspora 9: 1-16.  Currently available at

Armaline, William, Davita Glasberg, and Bandana Purkayastha. 2016. “De Jure vs. De Facto Rights: A Response to ‘Human Rights: What the United States Might Learn From the Rest of the World and, Yes, From American Sociology.’” Sociological Forum. DOI: 10.1111/socf.12303

Desai, Manisha. 2016. “SWS 2015 Feminist Lecture: The Gendered Geographies of Struggle: The World Social Forum and its Sometimes Overlapping Other Worlds.” Gender and Society 30(6): 869-889.

Desai, Manisha. 2016. “The Gendered Geographies of Global Justice,” In Social Movements and World-System Transformation. Edited by Jackie Smith, Michael Goodhart, Patrick Manning, and John Markoff.

Desai, Manisha and Rachel Rinaldo. 2016. “Reorienting Gender and Globalization: Introduction to the Special Issue.” Qualitative Sociology, Dec. 2016.

Ferrales, Gabrielle, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, and Suzy McElrath. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence Against Men and Boys in Darfur: What is Gendered About Genocide?” Gender & Society 30(4): 565-589.

Fukushima, Annie Isabel.  2016. An American Haunting: Unsettling Witnessing in Transnational Migration, the Ghost Case, & Human Trafficking (W.S. Hesford and R. Lewis, Eds). Feminist Formations, Special issue, Mobilizing Vulnerability: New Directions in Transnational Feminist Studies & Human Rights 28(1): 146 – 165.

Fukushima Annie Isabel, Guest Contributor. (2016) “Why should human trafficking be countered through a critical human rights approach?” In John Vanek (Ed.), The Essential Abolitionist: What You Need to Know About Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery.

Hola, Barbora and Hollie Nyseth Brehm. 2016. “Punishing Genocide:  A Comparative Empirical Analysis of Sentencing Laws and Practices at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Rwandan Domestic Courts, and Gacaca Courts.” Genocide Studies and Prevention 10(3): 59-80.

Krase, Jerome. “The Italian American Contribution to Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban.”

Krase, Jerome. “The Rise of Italo-Trumpism.”

Krase, Jerome. “Intalo-Trumpism in NYC.”
Krase, Jerome and Judith N. DeSena. 2016. Race, Class, and Gentrification in Brooklyn: A View from the Street. Lexington Books.

Krase, Jerome. Keynote Lecture, “Seeing the Image of the City Change,” University of Central, Lancashire, United Kingdom, Fieldwork Photography Symposium, November 9, 2016.

Nyseth Brehm, Hollie, Christopher Uggen, and Jean-Damascéne Gasanabo. 2016. “Age, Gender, and the Crime of Crimes: Toward a Life-Course Theory of Genocide Participation.” Criminology 54(4): 713-743.

Waring, Chandra and Purkayastha, Bandana. 2017. “‘I’m a Different Kind of Biracial’: How Black/White Biracial Americans with Immigrant Parents Negotiate Race.” Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation, Culture. Currently  available online at:

Wyrod, Robert. 2016. AIDS and Masculinity in the African City: Privilege, Inequality, and Modern Manhood. University of California Press.

Wyrod, Robert. 2016. “When Rights Come Home: The Intimate Politics of Women’s Rights in Urban Uganda.” Humanity 7: 47-70.

Yousaf, Farhan and Purkayastha, Bandana. 2016. “Social World of Organ Transplantation, Trafficking, and Policies.” Journal of Public Health Policy 37: 190-199.

Newsletter Submission Information

Please send the following types of submissions to Annie Isabel Fukushima and Hollie Nyseth Brehm at and To be included in the next issue, please send your submissions by May 31, 2017.

Feature 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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Sessions for 2017

Section sessions: Human Rights and Law from Above and Below: Comparative Perspectives

Part 1 (invited with David Frank, University of California at Irvine; Hassan Abdel Salam, Dartmouth College; Elizabeth Heger Boyle, University of Minnesota, Monika Krause, Goldsmiths, University of London; and as discussant: Christopher Roberts, University of Minnesota)

Part 2 (open submission, Frank Munger, New York Law School, Organizer <>)

Description: Two paired sessions, co-sponsored by the sections on the Sociology of Law and Human Rights. Papers in these sessions will explore the relationship between law and human rights. Questions include: how do legal guarantees secure human rights, and how do they fail to do so? How do human rights guarantees generate (or not) mobilization of law? How do human rights shape legal consciousness, and how does legal consciousness shape human rights? Papers will address these issues from a comparative perspective, across social groups, regional and national contexts. Law established by states and international actors, as well as legal mobilization from below and legal consciousness will be addressed.

Roundtables on the Sociology of Human Rights: Lynette Chua, University of Singapur, Organizer <>

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2016 – 2017 Chair and Council Members

Congratulations to the following:
Chair Elect Kiyoter Tsutsui, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Secretary Treasurer: Annie Fukushima, University of Utah
Council Members: Elizabeth Boyle, University of Minnesota; Robin Stryker, University of Arizona
Grad Student Representative: Vivian Shaw
Please also join me in thanking our Nominations Committee, Chaired by David Brunsma and including Susan Pearce and Melanie Bush.
We also welcome Joachim Savelsberg as the Human Rights Section Chair for 2016 – 2017.
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