Todd Landman Academic Magician
June 29, 2014Todd Landman

Quantitative Methods for Human Rights Research

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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


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