Posts Tagged ‘Essex’

Moving on from Essex

After 22 years at the University of Essex, I have decided to move on to pastures anew. I am excited to have been appointed the new Pro Vice Chancellor for Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham from 1 September 2015.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the many and incredible opportunities that I have had at the University of Essex. I came to Essex to work as a senior research officer on a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council on the comparative analysis of social movements and citizenship rights in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Spain.

Armed with a large duffle bag, a trombone, and a few magic tricks, I arrived at Heathrow in September 1993 and began a journey that I never dreamed would have been possible. I was originally invited to stay in the UK for one year and what transpired was a full academic and professional career, family life, and an adventure that has seen me travel to over 35 countries around the world working on development, democracy and human rights.

The original project yielded a book with Oxford University Press and a journal article in the British Journal of Political Science, a comparative textbook with Routledge (three editions, a Spanish edition, and a 4th edition on the way), and a career path that has focused on the measurement and analysis of human rights. Since these early years at Essex I have continued to publish books, articles, and reports, as well as engage in a wide range of international consultancy projects and commissioned research.

The intellectual environment at Essex combines attention to the rigorous analysis of the social and political world with larger normative concerns over the good life and human well being. Before becoming the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Essex in August 2013, I worked for years in the internationally renowned Human Rights Centre, directed the Centre for Democratic Governance, and directed the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.

I had incredible mentors and colleagues who helped me develop my thinking and writing in ways that allowed me to produce scholarly and practical work that addresses real world problems that continue to confront the world today. From advanced statistical analysis to the finer points of international law, colleagues at Essex have been generous with their time and sharing of their spirit for advancing cutting edge research that really matters.

In addition to the fantastic research pursuits at Essex, I have also had the opportunity and privilege to teach and work with so many students who have gone on to successful careers in academia, government, IGOs, NGOs and private corporations. The alumni community is huge and globally dispersed in ways that never cease to amaze me. I arrive in a country and there always seems to be an Essex graduate there doing something amazing. I have taught ex Soviet military officers, activists from Chiapas, government officials from Thailand, and NGO staff from Mongolia, among many others too numerous to count.

Since August 2013 when I took up my role as the Executive Dean, I have witnessed and taken part in an extraordinary transformation of Essex. Embracing the vision and values set out by our founding Vice Chancellor Albert Sloman, our new Strategic Plan crafts a new direction for the University that combines growth with excellence in research and education. Our colleagues are working at a level that it is hugely impressive with superb REF 2014 results that have placed us in the top 20 in the UK for research intensity (4th in the UK for the social sciences), a growing number of Fellows of the Higher Education Academy, great student satisfaction and the construction of fabulous new buildings for our staff and students. Essex is really going places, and I have been proud to have contributed to its recent success and renewed vigour.

Without this latter experience of working with academic and professional services in the Faculty and the wider university community, I could not have developed the knowledge and skills to take on the role at Nottingham. Partnership working and drawing down expertise from the academic staff and professional services lets us plan and grow for the future in ways that should be a model for other universities in these challenging times of change.

Essex also gave me the space to be The Academic Magician with many opportunities to share my approach to magic, which sees it as an apt performance medium to engage our minds in life’s fundamental questions. The pinnacle of my magic at Essex came in this academic year, our 50th year, with my celebratory show Then and Now, which I performed for over 450 people in the wonderful Lakeside Theatre in the autumn term of 2014. From its radical past to its amazing future, the University and its departments provided the perfect substance for an engaging evening of coincidence, synchronicity, mind reading and inexplicable predictions, all couched in my own transatlantic mirthful sense of irreverence.

I now join a university that has a remarkable number of fundamentals in place, campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia, and an array of intellectual capacities that are aligned with my own interests. The schools in the faculty include politics and international relations, sociology and social policy, geography, law (with a human rights law centre), economics, Chinese studies, education, and business. I have made the UK my home and I am excited to move to the heart of England to work at a truly global university, whose aspirations are exciting and motivating.

I would like to extend a very warm and heartfelt THANK YOU to all at Essex and to all who have passed through Essex with whom I have engaged in some way. It has been truly life changing.

Keep on challenging convention…

Quantitative Methods for Human Rights Research

landman books

This week I will be teaching four sessions on Quantitative Methods for Human Rights Research as part of the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods coordinated and run by the internationally renowned Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. I first came to Essex as part of an ESRC-funded project on citizenship rights and social movements in 1993 and have since worked on the measurement and analysis of human rights, so it is a great to be able to take part in the summer school, which in its first year has attracted 50 participants.

I thought I’d share some of the content for my sessions:

  • Designing Quantitative Research
  • Counting Human Rights Violations
  • Standards and Surveys
  • Socio-Economic & Administrative Statistics
My approach is guided by the idea that any good research project in human rights must founded on a well specified set of research questions. The ways in which the research questions are formulated have a direct bearing on the type of methods that ought to be adopted; a basic point that applies equally to qualitative and quantitative approaches. For me, all good research projects should be guided by following three key questions:
  • What do you want to know?
  • How are you going to find it out?
  • How would you know if you are wrong?
The last question is crucial since it implies a set of conditions that ought to be met if the main proposition of the research is in fact true. The research should be designed in such a way to test the main proposition and to identify ways in which evidence supports the argument. As researchers, and especially as human rights researchers, we have to know when we might be wrong. With this basic set of principles in place, a good project should have the following components:
  • Defining the scope of the research
  • Developing propositions
  • Collecting evidence
  • Analysing evidence
  • Presenting findings
  • Discussing implications
These components naturally suggest ways in which quantitative indicators and quantitative analysis are used to provide evidence in a human rights project and can answer questions pertaining to historical trends, patterns of development in human rights protection between countries, and the testing of hypotheses concerning the ways in which human rights are violated (or could be better protected). The sessions will also take advantage of the ESRC-funded Human Rights Atlas, which collates basic country statistics, legal commitments and human rights measures for all the countries of the world between 1980 and 2008 (now being updated to 2012).
The sessions will finish with my own summary as follows:
  • Problem definition is paramount
  • There are multiple categories and dimensions of human rights
  • There are multiple measures of human rights
  • There are multiple methods for analyzing human rights
  • Quantitative methods provide certain kinds of answers to certain kinds of questions
  • Evidence of intentionality is hard to establish
  • Evidence of tendencies, differences, and disproportionality support human rights-based approaches
  • Multivariate analysis can show attribution and contribution
  • Law and statistics can be mutually reinforcing for human rights advocacy

I am really looking forward to meeting everyone this week and getting to learn more about the projects that they are working on with a view to making them stronger.



Here are some pictures from the event:

Demonstrating the Human Rights Atlas

Demonstrating the Human Rights Atlas


Events data on human rights violations in Peru

Events data on human rights violations in Peru