Posts Tagged ‘international law’

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…

Social Magic and the Temple of Human Rights

A Critical Reflection on Stephen Hopgood’s Endtimes of Human Rights

(Cornell University Press 2013)

endtimesIn his compelling, engaging and wide-ranging book The Endtimes of Human Rights, Stephen Hopgood develops a highly critical argument that seeks to account for the biased genesis, dysfunctional enforcement, and precarious future of what have become known as internationally recognized (and increasingly legalized) human rights. For Hopgood, human rights are a secular yet sacred set of claims that have been advanced for human beings by virtue of them being human. The metanarrative that underpins their evolution from the middle of the 19th Century to their current manifestation in an increasingly complex array of international legal instruments is a product of European middle class intellectuals that is akin with what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘social magic’; the performative concept that captures the idea that certain ‘speech acts’ create significant political outcomes.

Hopgood argues that the sacred metanarrative of human rights has been symbolized through great architectural temples in Geneva (Palais des Nations), New York (UN Headquarters), and in the future, The Hague (the planned home for the International Criminal Court).  The metanarrative has also been developed in ways that has largely ignored gross roots and organic struggles against oppression leading to the gulf between what Hopgood calls human rights (localized and self-styled struggles) and Human Rights (international sacred discourse). The elitist and sacred nature of Human Rights has its own set of codes and conventions, and has become a hermetic community that has little relevance for the every day struggles for justice taking place at the local level.

Despite their sacred and self-evident nature, the mechanisms for the enforcement of human rights have been notoriously weak and over-reliant on the power and purpose of the United States, which has led to a human rights double standard (mixed application with wildly varying results) and marketization (professionalization of large and wealthy human rights NGOs). These twin attributes have undermined the very ideals of the human rights movement and created patchwork application of universal standards. Moreover, and the subject of this essay, the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) challenges US (and European) hegemony in the world in ways that have created what Hopgood calls a ‘neo-Westphalian’ world, where the probability of successful protection of human rights is more limited than ever.

Many of these arguments put forth in the book resonate with my own experiences and I thus find much of what Hopgood argues to be less problematic than one would assume given my career as a political scientist of human rights. My essay for next week’s event in The Hague charts a bit of my own experiences in the world of human rights and then addresses a series of Hopgood’s claims based on extant empirical literature on human rights.

The argument is developed in four stages:

First, I argue that Hopgood does not offer anything particularly shocking or new, since political science has long been skeptical about the growth and effectiveness of the international human rights regime and its reliance on commitment from powerful states.

Second, I embrace his exaltation of local grassroots human rights groups, but argue that Human Rights as he conceives it can contribute to this struggle by providing important legal standards, public discourses and political levers that help local groups realize their aims.

Third, I argue that the rise of the BRICs and now the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) may challenge US and European hegemony and represent new nodes of power and influence that have a negative impact on human rights; however, in terms of market size and material capabilities, the only real contender in the world for the medium term is China.

Finally, I argue that his worry over the assertion of nationalism and religion is overly critical and that the emergence of Pope Francis and survey data on values illustrates more hope for human rights in the future than Hopgood concedes.

I will present the full paper next week in The Hague, after which it will be published along with other papers by Amnesty International. Click here for my book: Democracy and Human Rights: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals and click here for my new article on human rights and the case of Chile published by Revista Politica.

Reflections on 9/11

Here are my reflections on 9/11 after ten years: