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


About anniefukushima

Scholar Activist
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