Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

The Long Year of BREXITRUMP

From The Hare and Hound pub, Suffolk, December 2017

From The Hare and Hound pub, Suffolk, December 2017

The year 2017 began on 24 June 2016 with the leave result in the EU Referendum and was accelerated several months later with the successful election of Donald Trump as President of the United States on 9 November.

In both events, significant proportions of the electorate in both the UK and the US had ostensibly become fed up with the status quo, and a renewed politics of resentment ushered in two astounding electoral victories that will change Anglo-American politics forever.

Much of the diagnosis of the problems of contemporary politics and governance was correct: globalisation, free trade, democratization, human rights, integration, and other symbols of a liberal world order simply had not delivered enough tangible benefit to enough people who then used their power of the vote to make their voices heard.

The solution being offered for the ills of this liberal world order, however, have been extremely divisive with their appeal to the baser instincts of human nature: relative deprivation, xenophobia, racism, isolationism, economic nationalism and an extreme over-simplification of politics that divides the world between notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

BREXITRUMP is my own neologism that captures what we experienced in 2017 and what we will experience in 2018 and beyond as the full ramifications of these two elections run their course. As 2018 begins, my deepest worries are about how profound and how long the effects of BREXITRUMP will be.

First, the campaigns for leaving the EU and Making America Great Again engaged in a certain ‘logic of equivalence’ where highly disparate groups of people are discursively constructed to be the same (or at least equivalent) with a view to galvanising supporters through a politics of ‘the other’ and fear of the unknown.

For Nigel Farage, the scion of the leave campaign, all migrants to the UK were bad, whether they were EU nationals with legal rights to movement, illegal immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers. The nadir of his appeal to voters’ darker instincts came with his billboard proclaiming ‘Britain is at Breaking Point.’

For Donald Trump, the logic of equivalence meant that significant ‘outgroups’ (Mexicans, Muslims, Syrian refugees, among others) were no longer welcome in America; a stance that manifested itself in repeated attempts at a travel ban against 8 Muslim majority countries, the fortification and enhancement of ICE, and the continued promise to build a wall to separate the United States from Mexico.

Second, there has been a dismantling or threat to dismantle long fought human rights achievements. The Withdrawal Bill, if passed, will allow the UK Government to reconsider and rescind human rights commitments found within the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as various social and economic protections found within EU directives and regulations.

More fundamentally, in the US, Donald Trump does not seem to understand the basic protections and rights set out in the US Bill of Rights (perhaps with the exception of the Second Amendment) and the US Constitution. In his recent interview in the New York Times, he declared that he has ‘absolute authority’ to do what he wants with the Department of Justice. Such a statement comes off the back of a year of firing Department of Justice Officials (e.g. Sally Yates and James Comey), lambasting federal judges for challenging his attempted travel ban, and casting aspersions on the FBI and other intelligence agencies for their work on investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Third, there has been a retreat from global alliances. The year-long process of getting past stage one in the EU negotiations has seen repeated attempts by the UK government to not honour its financial commitments to the EU, while asserting a renewed sense of national identity and independence through an appeal to changing the colour of UK passports. Whether we have a hard or soft BREXIT, the economic dip I predicted on 24 June 2016 is upon us, and likely to affect us for some time. Indeed, the World Economic Forum shows that the UK economy will contribute 1.6% to global growth in 2018 next to the Euro Zone at 7.9%, India at 8.6%, the US at 17.9%, and China at 35.2%.

Fourth, there has been an assault on both reason and reasonableness. Bold claims from many in the EU referendum simply did not bear empirical scrutiny (e.g. the claim that the NHS could see an additional £350 million per week), while Mr Trump has cast doubt on well-established scientific findings, prohibited the publication of scientific findings (particularly those related to climate change), and has gaslighted the media for false reporting, while telling remarkable tall tales himself. White House officials have either sought to present ‘alternative facts’ or have had to reinterpret what the President has said (or tweeted) to maintain some semblance of rationality in public discourse.

The assault on reasonableness is probably the most troubling. On line and off line behaviours have degenerated into more confrontation, which at times, has led to extreme inter-personal violence (e.g. the murder of Jo Cox in the UK and the ram raid against a protester at the Charlottesville ‘alt right’ rally). Public debate and discussion on fundamental issues facing society are proving elusive, as opposing groups retreat into their own news and social media bubbles. Death threats have been made against anyone who questions BREXIT negotiations and process, or those who were survivors of the Las Vegas shooting.

This descent into barbarism must be confronted and challenged through a re-centring of our politics and a re-grounding of it on reasonable discussion of facts, patterns, and evidence. There are simply not ‘alternative facts’ but competing bases of evidence and interpretation that should form the basis for rational debate. There is also an accumulation of scientific knowledge that is based on observation, theory, collection of evidence, testing of theories, findings, and refinement of theories and explanations. Pure assertion without evidence is simply not good enough and can lead to the polarised post-truth politics that are destined to destroy our societies if left unchecked.

There should be an acceptance that mainstream media (MSM) do not always get it right, but their work is grounded in reason and evidence, and their role is to hold public officials to account. When they get it wrong, they explain and retract. The honesty of explanation, apology, and retraction is not evidence of ‘fake news’ but evidence of the fallibility of news reporting and the challenges of quality reporting in an era of real time access to information.

The academy also has a role to play here. Across the disciplines is a commitment to engage in the genesis and evolution of ideas, where freedom to enquire and challenge is the bedrock of the scholarly endeavour and raison d’être of academic institutions. Many scholars are stepping out and sharing their research with wider communities, but more could be done to engage with the world’s smartest minds in order to solve some of society’s toughest problems. The dismissal of ‘experts’ in the UK is done at our peril. Legal, political, economic, and other experts have much to share on the many problems that confront us today.

All of us need to transcend our informational and cultural bubbles. We need to engage with other bubbles, read uncomfortable thoughts and ideas, and discuss problems without lapsing into vitriol and violence. Failure to address these problems now risks a prolonged crisis of politics for the medium to long term. The impact of BREXIT will, in many ways, be more profound and long lasting than Trump, but after March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU and after Donald Trump (whenever that might be), the sentiments, attitudes, and instincts that underpin much of this dark turn in politics will remain. This week’s release of the Thatcher papers show that the issue of Europe has riven the conservative party for decades, while political scientist Cas Mudde argues that a post Trump America will still harbour all the same feelings that led to Trump’s America.

Rolling Back Rights

Jenna Reinbold. Seeing the Myth in Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. 208 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4881-4.

Reviewed by Todd Landman (University of Nottingham)
Published on H-Diplo (July, 2017)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

Rolling Back Rights

On May 3, 2017, Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, briefed staff at the US State Department on how the new “America First” policy of the Donald Trump administration should be interpreted for the planning and implementation of foreign policy.[1] He declared that there should be a decoupling of policies from values, where interventions carried out under the auspices of “America First” would not necessarily be done so on the basis of an appeal to American values such as democracy, freedom, and human rights. He claimed that even though values remain constant, policies change and the pursuit of American interests during the Trump administration will supersede American values. In other words, he was articulating a realist and pragmatic approach to foreign policy that concedes the importance of American values at home, but does not insist on those values being at the heart of its policies abroad, nor should such values be seen as a sine qua non of US foreign relations with other countries around the world.

Such a position represents a significant break from the past, where at least ostensibly, the United States has always sought to align its foreign policy to such values. Even though there is a long history of the United States ignoring human rights abroad, including recent revelations in the CIA torture report, the Abu Ghraib torture photos, and the use of extraordinary rendition, the United States has long been seen as a defender of freedom and a supporter of democracy. Indeed, the Millennium Challenge Account as part of USAID has human rights and other governance conditions that need to be met before third countries receive overseas development assistance (ODA).

In the debates during the recent general election in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May led moves to abandon the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act, which since coming into force in 2000 brought the full protection of fundamental rights set out in the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. The result of the June 23, 2016, referendum for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union provided additional leverage to the prime minister’s argument; however, her official positon is to wait until after Brexit is complete before looking at the protection of human rights in the UK. These anti-human rights sentiments stand in stark contrast to the United Kingdom’s history of rights that not only reaches back to the Magna Carta of 1215, but also includes British leadership in the forging of the European human rights regime.[2]

The Tillerson and May positions on human rights come at a time of rising criticism in which human rights are seen as impediments to strong government, economic efficiency, and national and international security. The “War on Terror” since 9/11, the consolidation of anti-terror legislation across many Western democracies, the rise of “illiberal” democracies, and the return to authoritarianism in countries such as the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte have seen significant efforts to roll back human rights protections and to undermine what has been a gradual, consensual, and increasingly inclusive promulgation, legalization, and proliferation of human rights.[3]

Ever since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the world has seen the establishment and subsequent growth in the international law of human rights, which includes major international and regional treaties, institutions, and organizations. Many now describe this collection of bodies and law as an international “regime” of human rights, which has grown in depth and breadth, where an increasing number of human rights have been given express legal protection (i.e., civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights) and an increasing number of countries have ratified human rights treaties.[4] More countries in the world have formally committed themselves to the human rights norms and values originally set out in the UDHR, and such formal participation in the de jure protection of human rights has been shown empirically to lead to an improvement in their de facto protection and realization.[5]

Over the last year and a half, I have been talking to human rights scholars and practitioners as part of the Rights Track podcast series ( in which we have been discussing how systematic research on human rights has developed and how human rights organizations carry out their work to advance human rights. Our discussions have revealed two very important and common themes: (1) trends in the perception and protection of certain human rights are actually much more positive than we had assumed or believed before starting the podcast series; and (2) human rights are fluid, contested and “made” by collective struggles from groups at the domestic and international levels. Demands for rights create opportunities to extend rights protections that have already been promulgated in principle or to promulgate new rights protection and expand the law of human rights. The gap between “rights in principle” and “rights in practice” becomes a space for contestation that is often used by human rights NGOs and other collective actors to seek redress from states and international actors.[6]

In the face of such positive developments and importance of human rights, the Tillerson and May approach finds significant traction in mass publics and represents a more nationalistic and isolationist turn in international relations and politics. Nativist and populist elements in the United States propelled Donald Trump to power in part due to a deep skepticism about “globalist” ideas such as human rights and fears that international governance curbs the sovereignty of America. Theresa May famously declared that “to be a citizen of the world is to be a citizen of nowhere,” and Brexit campaigners traded on a similar set of discourses evident in the US that created fear of the other, suspicion of supranational governance, and strong dislike of human rights.

Beyond the rise of May and Tillerson, academic work has also seen recent books such as The End of Human Rights by Costas Douzinas (2000) and The Endtimes of Human Rights by Stephen Hopgood (2013), which are critical of the ways in which human rights have been colonized by particular sets of elites who have taken away the power of human rights from those who most need their protection. These critiques see a yawning gap between the practice and discourses of the elite international human rights lawyers in New York and Geneva (what Hopgood refers to as “Human Rights,” with large capital letters) and the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people who demand rights and basic protections (what Hopgood refers to as “human rights,” with lowercase letters). Douzinas claims that the struggle for human rights has moved from the barricades to the barristers, while Hopgood argues that human rights language has become sacralized (and is guilty of its own form of social magic) and even dedicates a chapter of his book to a critique of the architecture of human rights buildings in New York, The Hague, and Geneva.[7] Skepticism and critique of human rights such as these are not new; many people have doubted the foundations of human rights and have seen them as serving the interests of particular segments of society, but the return of strong critique and recent political developments suggest that once again human rights are under threat.

In this current climate, Jenna Reinbold’s Seeing the Myth in Human Rights is a welcome defense of human rights. In the absence of agreed philosophical foundations for human rights and despite the many positive advances that have been made in their promotion and protection, there is still a need for strong arguments about why we have human rights, why they are important, and how they have come about. Her argument reaches far beyond consideration of the pragmatism of a human rights approach that only focuses on the law, or concerns over administration or enforcement, and delves into the deeper sense of what “we mean when we speak of human rights” (p. 7). She grounds her argument in the idea of “political myth”; that unifying set of narratives that have parallels with religious beliefs and discourses, but that also encompass secular, modern, postmodern, and post-traditional notions of a binding set of ideas that become legitimized and reified. For Reinbold, myth is not fantasy or fiction as it has been traditionally understood, but it is a “dense, evocative narrative designed to generate meaning, solidarity, and order for a particular audience” (p. 8). To be effective, such myths must carry “indisputable authority” and “unequivocal assertions.”

She argues that the UDHR, the primary focus of the book, had both of these attributes of myth, and she deploys the idea of the mythopoeic quality of the UDHR: “the deliberate, often painstaking work that Commission members undertook to produce an ethico-political narrative capable of commanding a uniquely realistic status” (p. 8). In this way, Reinbold joins other scholars in examining how human rights are socially constructed, crafted and made through language and action wrapped in a powerful narrative. Her focus on the UDHR is correct in that it begins the modern process of articulating a set of universal rights drawn from historical struggles and the history of thought, and it is not a legally binding document, but a global foundational document that would shape law, politics, and practice in the decades that followed its promulgation. Reinbold’s use of the term “mythopoeic” is very much in the vein of the sociologist and social theorist Emile Durkheim, for whom myth is not valuable itself, but has a larger “sociofunctionalist” purpose. The UDHR, as Reinbold sees it, gave human rights “their capacity to command a particular moral weight within the blossoming international landscape of the twentieth century” (p. 9).

There is a strong “sacralization” logic running through this book, which sees the evolution of a secularized defense of human dignity. While Hopgood sees such sacralization as problematic, Reinbold, in keeping with other sacred arguments about humanity and the person, sees it as crucial for understanding the foundation and enduring appeal of human rights. Her mythopoeic analysis is rooted in religious beliefs and discourses, but in human rights she sees a similar function for “authoritative secular” or “quasi-secular” narratives. Indeed, she argues that the UDHR is an “avowedly secular document” designed to encapsulate a prescription for “human meaning, morality, and solidarity within an evocative, highly authoritative narrative” (p. 11). While she insists on the secular nature of the UDHR, she nevertheless concedes that the document itself is “a true spiritual guide for humanity” (citing Chilean delegate to the Commission Hernan Santa Cruz, p. 11). There is thus for me an ongoing and some ways unresolved tension in this book between the insistence on secularity and the appeal to myth, the sacred, and the spiritual.

Her evidence base for this particular reading of the modern origins and articulation of human rights is an extensive record of the negotiations of the UDHR, the public broadcasts of the framers, their speeches, and many of their essays. The success of her argument rests on three main things, in my view. First, she claims that the framers of the UDHR had effectively narrated into existence the moral and legal landscape that centered on the sacredness of the human being. Second, she deploys a flexible and fluid understanding of myth that breaks from more formulaic uses of myth found in religious studies. And finally, she is keen to demonstrate how this narrative construction of human rights has sought to move the world from one of “barbarous acts” to one of “freedom, justice and peace in the world” (p. 13).

The structure of Reinbold’s argument starts with a deeper understanding of myth, both in its sacred and political dimensions, a theoretical framework which allows her to understand the construction of human rights as mythopoeic and to bring in a fuller and more salient consideration of religion. She moves on to consider the sacred elements of human rights or the appeal to the sacred in human rights. Here, we see the powerful role of the notion of “inherent human dignity,” which can come from philosophical foundations that appeal to God (e.g., Thomas Aquinas), nature (e.g., John Locke), or reason (e.g., Immanuel Kant).[8]

While we often think the notion of the sacred transcends time and space, the particular critical juncture of the immediate post-World War II period during which the UDHR was drafted pits the notion of the sacred against the “barbarous acts” the world had just witnessed across Europe. In this way, the sacred in human rights is socially constructed, as the ideas about human rights interact with the social world in which the UDHR was being framed and crafted. Human rights so conceived do not become “empty signifiers,” but of a time and a place that can be their empirical referents and that can provide them with meaning.[9] The challenge, however, remains in making the appeal of human rights travel beyond these particular conditions in ways that appeal to a global audience.

The mechanism through which human rights have become universalized has primarily been international law, which developed through consultation, iteration, and different forms of social construction over time. The sacredness of human rights articulated in the early sections of the book is then seen through the eyes of the legal world, and the language of the UDHR, while not legally binding, sets out minimal conditions for human dignity that can be articulated through law. For Reinbold, law makes the language of the UDHR “actionable,” but even the law has evolved through further iterations, ongoing jurisprudence, and proliferation over time.

Reinbold culminates her argument through a consideration of the precarity of myth. Indeed, in 1999, New York Times author David Reiff claimed that human rights should be seen as a “precarious triumph,” which has advanced considerably since the UDHR, but which remains continually under threat and never fully realized. Reinbold has given us much to contemplate in this beautifully written account of the mythopoeic origins of human rights. Seeing the myth of human rights is not to dismiss them as nonexistent or fragile, but to show us the genealogy of an idea that has moved from the conceptual to the practical, a journey that requires us to acknowledge the role of religion, society, politics, and law. In the current period, the force of her argument and the power of human rights is now more important than ever.


[1]. Rex W. Tillerson, “Remarks to U.S. Department of State Employees,” May 3, 2017, US Department of State website, (last accessed June 19, 2017).

[2]. A. W. B. Simpson, Human Rights and the End of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[3]. Todd Landman, Protecting Human Rights: A Global Comparative Study (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005), Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), “Rigorous Morality: Norms, Values and the Comparative Politics of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly 38, no. 1 (2016): 1-20; and Salidin Meckled-Garcia, The Legalization of Human Rights: Multidisciplinary Approaches (London: Routledge, 2005).

[4]. Landman, Protecting Human Rights, 1.

[5]. Landman, Protecting Human Rights; Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Christopher J. Fariss, “The Changing Standard of Accountability and the Positive Relationship between Human Rights Treaty Ratification and Compliance,” British Journal of Political Science (2016): 1-33, doi:10.1017/S000712341500054X.

[6]. Joe Foweraker and Todd Landman, Citizenship Rights and Social Movements: A Comparative and Statistical Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Thomas Risse, STephen C. Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds., The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

[7]. Todd Landman, “Social Magic and the Temple of Human Rights: Critical Reflections on Stephen Hopgood’s Endtimes of Human Rights,” in Debating the Endtimes of Human Rights: Activism and Institutions in a Neo-Westphalian World, ed. Doutje Lettinga and Lars van Troost (The Hague: Amnesty International, 2014), 25-32.

[8]. Attracta Ingram, A Political Theory of Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[9]. Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso Books, 2007).

Printable Version:

Citation: Todd Landman. Review of Reinbold, Jenna, Seeing the Myth in Human Rights. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. July, 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Rights Track – Why podcasts are a great way to raise awareness about human rights



‘Podcasts embody what is arguably the essential promise of the Internet: a means for surprising, revealing, and above all ennobling encounters with people, things, and ideas we didn’t know.’

Jonah Weiner, blog for Slate ‘Toward a critical theory of podcasting’.


For the last 25 years I have been working on human rights problems. I have applied theories and methods from the discipline of political science to empirical analyses that have involved single countries, small groups of countries, and all the countries in the world. This work has been underpinned by a commitment to making the best inferences possible with the evidence that has been collected.

I have published widely on how and why comparative methods can and should be applied to the study of human rights. I have examined empirical relationships between the struggle for citizenship rights in authoritarian Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Spain; between the international law of human rights and the protection of human rights; and between different forms of inequality and the violation of certain sets of human rights. My work is now focussed on the ways in which human rights are framed and how that framing affects our readiness to find culpability of alleged perpetrators.

Throughout my pursuit of this research I have had the opportunity to travel to 38 different countries to participate in conferences, workshops, seminars, and training activities where I have worked with a wide range of local, national, and international stakeholders from governments, international non-governmental organisations, inter-governmental organisations, academic institutions, and private sector companies. This work has led to my involvement in a wide network of individuals who are dedicated to producing sound evidence on human rights.

They apply empirical theories and methods to well crafted research questions at different levels of analysis with the intent of making the world a better place. They measure and compare human rights practice; they interview individuals and groups about human rights experiences; they test hypotheses about important relationships between human rights and other explanatory factors; and they try to make their findings relevant and salient to policy makers and practitioners working in the human rights and broader international community.

The research and policy outputs of this work often comes in the form of the written word: articles, books, and reports that set out the aims and objectives of the research, the specification of the research questions, the review and articulation of the relevant theories and literature, the specification of hypotheses, the presentation of data, methods and analysis, and a discussion of the implications of these findings for the advance of human rights. These outputs are a vital part of the pool of knowledge that is being created by human rights scholars and practitioners; however, as a means of communication, they can still remain quite limited in their ability to reach key audiences.


To address this limitation, I am joined by a great team to bring you an exciting new venture we call The Rights Track. With generous funding from the Nuffield Foundation, The Rights Track will provide a free web resource with podcasts from leading empirical human rights researchers drawn from my own networks and those of others with a view to sharing motivations, findings, and implications of this research for a wider community of interested people. Podcasts are an excellent medium of communication, which capture the human element of knowledge creation, since we can hear scholars and practitioners in their own words talk about why they do what they do, what they do, and why what they do really matters for the world. I enjoyed making my own podcast series and this project is a natural extension of that work.

Podcasts can be downloaded, saved for later, and revisited while you are at home, on the move, and traveling abroad. And as a form of communication, podcasts are now more popular than ever. Last year, Apple said subscriptions of podcasts through iTunes reached 1 billion. RawVoice, which tracks 20,000 shows, said the number of unique monthly podcast listeners has tripled to 75 million from 25 million five years ago so, in that respect it’s clearly a fantastic platform for reaching a wide and diverse audience. I am thus really pleased to post this blog on international podcast day!

I will host the podcasts and engage with this group of human rights analysts in ways that tease out answers to these key questions on motivation, analysis, and impact of their work. My efforts are joined by former BBC journalist and founder of Research Podcasts Christine Garrington who will produce the podcasts, and web designer Paul Groves who will build the platform for the project and support the hosting of all the content in the most accessible formats possible. The podcasts will start being made available to the public on International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015.

The project is currently working on developing the web resource (CLICK HERE) and inviting leading analysts to participate. It has its first guests lined up who I will interview this autumn in preparation for our launch in December. I am really excited to bring this new and important resource to the public domain! I hope you join me and tune in!

You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope.


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…

Some of the World I have seen…

Todd Landman’s Travel Map

The past 21 years at the University of Essex have allowed me to explore the world in ways that were never imaginable when growing up in the United States. Work in the Department of Government, Human Rights Centre, and the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution has sent me to over 35 countries for keynote speeches, capacity building, workshops, seminars, conferences, and some down time. I am very grateful for all these opportunities and for all the wonderful people I have met. This nice web-based piece of software allowed me to map my journeys and take stock of the parts of the world I have seen. I am also aware of the remarkable changes in the politics of these places that has allowed such engagement, and the nearly 140 countries that are represented on our University campuses. I take heart from this level of mobility and engagement; an increasing degree of connectedness can only be good for enhancing mutual understanding, shared experience, and dampening down of the kind of intolerances that lead to convict. As I catalogue in my recent TedX talk, the world has seen a secular decline in conflict and military coups, and a gradual improvement in the protection of civil and political rights.

Todd Landman has been to: Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

The Conversation: Ferguson and Beyond

There’s no escaping the data: African Americans face injustice at every turn

My new article from The Conversation under creative commons licence.

By Todd Landman, University of Essex

Following the decision by a grand jury not to indict St Louis police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting teenager Michael Brown, it has been suggested that the incident is far from a special case. I agree entirely. Ferguson is completely consistent with longer term trends in data about crime and the criminal justice system in the United States.

A variety of studies show that there continues to be disproportionate maltreatment of African Americans at different points within the criminal justice system, including stop and search, arrest, conviction, sentencing, and killing.

This disproportionality occurs over and above the long-term trends in black crime rates. Arrest rates are higher, conviction rates are higher, custodial sentences are made more often and for longer durations, and confrontation with the police results in a higher rate of killing.

Arguments that African Americans commit more crimes miss the point. Even when they do commit more crimes, their treatment by the justice system is markedly worse than for other groups in society who also commit crimes.

A recent study from The Sentencing Project provides a number of disturbing findings that support this view.

The study showed that white Americans have a much stronger “punitive mindset” and are more likely to favour the death penalty. On top of that, they overestimate the amount of crime that is actually committed by non-whites. The study also shows clear evidence of the unequal enforcement of laws and a media bias that leads to greater coverage of crimes against white victims.

Behind the numbers

This tells a story of systemic problems in American society and the criminal justice system. These problems serve as inconvenient truths in a country founded on principles of equality, the protection of fundamental rights, and the rule of law.

Those who recognise this statistical portrait of America see within the data a story of endemic racism and discrimination, where the underlying patterns suggest intention to treat black Americans differently than others (the study also shows a similar set of findings for Hispanic Americans).

Data of course cannot show intentionality but the kinds of patterns that are observed could not be produced by mere chance alone. Michael Brown and Darren Wilson were not brought together by random chance which then resulted in a coincidental outcome of Brown’s death. There are systemic and individual factors at play, which make the Brown case much like other cases that produce the kind of data analysed by The Sentencing Project.

Ferguson is in the eye of this storm but this happens all over the US.

Those who do not embrace the data or agree with the statistical portrait of America prefer to blame the victim and focus on the the personal drivers and motivations for criminal behaviour. They then claim the outcome of confrontation with the police is unfortunate but not surprising. On this view, it is Brown who is wrong. It is Brown who was the criminal and it was Brown who should not have not behaved like Hulk Hogan or a demon.

What is to be done?

In the despair over the grand jury decision, protesters have called for a judicial response. It was welcome news then that Attorney General Eric Holder and the President Barack Obama have ordered the Department of Justice to continue to investigate the case. But wider reform is also needed, including education, social welfare, police training and re-balancing of what is perceived as an unjust and unfair system.

I have seen similar patterns of abuse in many countries outside the US, and I have seen attempts at judicial reform to redress the worst forms of abuse.

Brazil, for example, has had notorious problems with police brutality, where patterns of abuse have shown remarkably disproportionate use of force. A new study shows that reforms aimed at increasing levels of career satisfaction, greater diversity within the ranks, and community-based policing have reduced the propensity to use excessive force. Capacity building and training programmes can also have a positive impact.

Such reform efforts are not without their problems, but I do hope that Brown’s death and the movement it has sparked provide a renewed opportunity for the US government to tackle inconvenient truths in a way that paves a better future for all.

The Conversation

Todd Landman receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, Innovate UK, the European Commission and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.. He is affiliated with American Political Science Association, Political Studies Association, and the Royal Society of Arts.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Yesterday 21 October 2014, the University of Essex was host to an independently organised TED event, known as TEDx. The theme of the day was ‘Promise through research’. In following the TEDx guidelines, the format was for our speakers to present an accessible talk on a key theme from their own research that addresses the question of promise or offers promise on some issue.We also had a selection of pre-recorded TED talks that fit our chosen theme.

Todd Landman, Neli Demireva, Pam Cox

Todd Landman, Neli Demireva, Pam Cox
TEDxEssex 21 October 2014

Scheduled across four clusters, we had talks on human rights, multiculturalism, a working women’s charter, technology and the regulation of war, modelling complex and big data, public faces and new technology, the breakdown of authoritarian regimes, solutions for dyslexia, feeding the world, brain drain, moral disagreements and citizenship, and equality in the world. It was fantastic to see Essex colleagues participating with a live audience of Essex students and a live streamed audience across the internet.

The cross cutting themes of humanity, opportunity, constraints on authoritarianism, liberation, struggle, and promise were all on display with timely examples and provocative claims based on firm research and analysis. The University of Essex will in due course will be releasing some of the talks on line as per the TED guidelines and practice. An excellent day featuring amazing individuals.

The full video recording for the talk is here:


From Oz to Suffolk: Blog Hop on The Writing Process

Today’s blog is the result of a wonderful invitation from science writer, spider expert, and magicienne Lynne Kelly, who among many fantastic offerings, wrote an intriguing essay called ‘Feminine Magic’ for my book, The Magiculum. We had the good fortune of spending a day together in Suffolk England last year when she visited the UK from Australia. We met virtually years before through a magic forum and have corresponded ever since.

Lynne’s invitation is for me to reflect on the writing process, share my blog and invite others to make a similar submission.

So, here goes!

What are you working on?

This year I finished several articles, a critical response to human rights book for Amnesty International, a book chapter on social science methods and human rights, and a paper on an experiment we ran at the University of Essex that addressed questions of framing, human rights advocacy, and the trial of General Efrain Ríos Montt in Guatemala, which will be presented in Washington DC next week at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.


This summer I am writing the Fourth Edition of Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics for Routledge. The book was first published in 2000, then 2003, and then 2008. It has been translated into German and Spanish, and the the new edition updates the content and provides more insight into and contemporary examples for the methods that are outlined and discussed.

I am also writing an unusual book that is part auto-biography, part novel and part magic manual for magicians, mentalists and mystery entertainers who perform what has been called ‘theatrical mentalism’. The project is exciting and will be an exclusive offering to the magic community in early 2015. Until then, its contents remain top secret!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Over the past twenty years or so, I have sought to bring the study of human rights into the discipline of political science and to bring the theories and methods of political and social science into the world of human rights. My work differs in the sense that it is problem-based and focusses on large normative and value-based questions, but uses systematic methods of inquiry and analysis to address the problems. I have worked on social mobilisation and rights demands under conditions of authoritarian rule, transitions to democracy, development and democracy, democracy and human rights, measuring human rights, the growth and effectiveness of the international human rights regime, and the application of phronetic social science to real world problems.

Throughout this period of work I have tried to remain open minded and to embrace a plurality of methods while remaining committed to the link between evidence and inference. I am keen to undertake research that collects and analyses evidence in the fairest and most intellectually honest way possible to take account of the natural uncertainty that comes with the scientific process of discovery. This approach has taken my around the world to work with scholars, advocates, partitioners, and policy makers in over 35 countries ranging from Peru to Mongolia.

The substance of my work has had an uneasy reception in political science (i.e. mixing normative and empirical approaches) and human rights (mixing statistics and law); however, students and participants in my classes, seminars, and workshops have taken value from my approach and enjoyed my blend of theory, philosophy, method, and activism.

Like my academic work, my magical writing has sought to bring the world of magic into academia and the world of academia into magic. My shows are grounded in a certain sense of metaphysical plurality, where different accounts of what is being experienced in the theatre are equally plausible. My current show is entitled ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which tips its hat to the work of John Rawls, but explores a wide range of philosophical concepts and topics through the genre of mentalism and bizarre magic. In this way, I see a synergy between my academic work and my magical work.

Why do you write what you do?

I had a number of formative experiences growing up that made me turn my attention to the politics of authoritarianism, democracy and human rights. We had frequent visitors to our house in the 1970s and 1980s from Latin America, which turned my attention to the politics of the region while a student at the University of Pennsylvania (1984-1988).

In late 1989, I was working in the photographic laboratory in the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University when a Jesuit Priest arrived one morning with a roll of film that he wanted us to develop. He asked that we make ten copies of the pictures on the roll. In these pre-digital days, my boss and I stood in the darkroom shaking the can, drying the film, and then printing the pictures. We were not prepared for what we were about to see.

The pictures had been smuggled out of El Salvador and were of the scene at the Pastoral Centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) where six Jesuit priests along with a maid and her daughter were killed.[1] The images that confronted us were not what was reported in the mainstream press (i.e. that they were shot). Rather, we saw the brutal end results not only of a ‘simple’ set of extra-judicial killings, but the result of a manner of killing that has left an indelible mark on me ever since.

The official truth commission in El Salvador strong evidence that not only had the military had given the orders to carry out the murders but that the officers involved also engaged in cover up.[2] The facts of the case and the images that I developed those many years ago illustrate a basic point about the capacity of human beings to horrible things to one another, which lead to a deontological conclusion that what I saw was morally wrong and which has galvanised my commitment to a lifetime of human rights research.

My magical writing has been much more free and open to creativity, but also contains attention to theory and method. I have been inspired by the great magicians from the past, and have sought to carve out a personal pathway for my own style of performance that uses magic as a medium to explore larger questions and problems confronting humanity, including the persecution of women during the witch hunting period in Europe, the social injustice of Victorian mental asylums, the foundations for human rights, motivations for people to act justly, the instability of language, the power of family history and inheritance, and psychological profiling and alienism, among many others.

How does your writing process work?

As a problem-based researcher, I respond to the developments in global politics and human rights with an open mind and explore different ways in which I might study a problem and provide answers to particular questions. I read widely and formulate plausible explanations for what I observe that suggest ways in which such explanations may or may not be supported by evidence. Substantive research projects have ancillary subjects around methods and measurement about which I have written many books and articles.
Thus, I am inspired to write about contemporary problems in the world as well as the ways in which such problems can be studied. I begin with a problem or theme, work out the structure of how I will address them, and then write in ways that populates the structure with content and the development of a well grounded argument. If I see holes in the argument I continue to read and research until I feel satisfied that a particular area has been covered comprehensively. For larger research projects that rely on the collection and analysis of primary and secondary data, I have a meta strategy that structures the project, imagines the types of evidence that will need to be collected and analysed, and the type of outputs that will be made possible.
I am currently working on a project that seeks to measure values in organisations both from the personal importance individuals place on values and the ways in which they think their organisation demonstrates those values through day to day practices. The meta structure sees the need for defining values, operationalising values, collecting data from different organisations, analysing the data, and then planning a number of different outputs based on that analysis. My project team has developed the measurement tool and carried out a pilot study which is allowing us to refine the tool and map out the kinds of things we would like to publish.
For my magic writing I settle on meta themes that I want to explore through magic and then I script and design stage shows around these themes using props, slides, music and the methods of performance magic. My stage shows have included ‘An Evening of Metaphysical Magic’, ‘An Evening of Enchantment’, ‘Edge of the Unknown’, ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, and my latest creation ‘Then and Now’, a magical celebration of 50 years of the history of the University of Essex.
I hope I have addressed the questions adequately and that readers take value from what I have shared. I am pleased to pass the baton to Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold working in Brazil.

[1] The victims included Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; Amando López, Joaquin López and Juan Ramón Moreno (teachers at UCA) and Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos. See Vanity Fair (1990) ‘Letter from El Salvador,’ Vanity Fair, November 1990: 110, 115-116, 118, 120, 123.

[2] United States Institute for Peace, Truth Commissions: Reports: El Salvador.




Memorialising atrocity – Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) - Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) – Marcelo Brodsky

Many times the strongest messages come from the power of an everyday object. This piece is an incidental photograph that could have been taken in any high school in the world. Well-aligned and smartly dressed students sit together, smiling, and wearing expressions that are full of hope for the future. The context and reason for this piece from Marcelo Brodsky, however, stands in stark contrast to the ebullient feeling communicated through the young faces in this simple photograph.

Of the 32 students in the picture, two were dead and one was ‘disappeared’ as a result of the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina between 1976 and 1982. Four of the students suffered prolonged trauma from this period, while others had moved away from Buenos Aires to other parts of Argentina; from Argentina to other parts of Latin America; or from Latin America to countries further afield. While the cohesion of high school classes is always beset with changes and possible tragedies, the scale of the impact of authoritarian rule on the young people of Argentina has been immeasurable.

My father was engaged in business for DuPont in Argentina during this same period. His slide collection shows a bucolic Buenos Aires with tree-lined boulevards, cafes, and bright sunny days without a soldier or a victim in sight. Because of his Latin American experiences, I have spent my whole academic career researching the politics of authoritarian rule, transitions to democracy and the patterns of human rights violations that emerge during these periods of profound political transformation. Like the photograph, the case of Argentina (and I would argue other cases of post-authoritarian politics) is one of deep issues that remain unresolved and the absence of closure. Public acknowledgement of past wrongs have been made, attempts at justice partially achieved, and the scars from the period are a visible reminder of the repressive policies that destroyed the social fabric of the country, the privatised violence to the point that families and friends stopped talking about politics, and the profound dislocations of human lives that have ruptured any sense of national identity.

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcelo Brodsky and hosting him for an afternoon discussion of his work in London. After two hours of stories about the period from Marcelo and audience members, an Argentine woman who left her country for Madrid in 1978 claimed that this occasion was the first time she had ever heard of any of the atrocities committed by the regime. At that time, we were shocked at her revelation, but over the years I have learned that like this photograph, the real story is not evident to all observers. Indeed, as the case of Argentina shows, that which is immediately observable can hide a much darker truth.

The image is held by ESCALA at the University of Essex and will be on display in the Forum in Southend as part of the University’s 50th Anniversary.


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