Louisa Roberts, PhD!

Congratulations to Louisa Roberts, who successfully defended her dissertation at Ohio State University this week:  “The Globalization of the Acceptance of Homosexuality:  Mass Opinion and National Policy”

The committee included Ryan King (the chair) and Hollie Brehm, two of the outstanding graduates of the Minnesota sociology department.  I met Louisa at ASA, and ended up getting added to her committee along the way.

The dissertation uses data from the World Values Survey to explore shifting values toward homosexuality around the world.  Louisa argues that world society sustains strong noms that are having a powerful impact, reshaping attitudes and also propelling pro-LGBT legislation such as laws permitting same-sex marriage.

Among the project’s many contributions:

1) First, the dissertation does a really nice job of describing and exploring the trends in attitudes toward homosexuality, overall and by region.  One comes away with a powerful sense of the dramatic global change that has occurred.  With the recent resurgence of anti-LGBT movements and legislation in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and some former soviet states, it is easy to forget the very large increases in tolerance throughout most of the world.  Sociologists are always quick to point out continuing injustices, and rightly so, but one must not lose sight of the tremendous social change that has occurred.  The change is massive, and cries out for explanation.  And, the dissertation does not disappoint in terms of developing a strong answer.

2) The project joins people like Liz Boyle, Markus Hadler, Jennifer Givens, and Lir Wang in exploring how world society affects individuals.  Originally, world society theory focused almost exclusively on state policy adoption… but it is increasingly clear that world society penetrates down into national societies and affects people.  This branch of the world society literature is in its infancy, and Louisa’s dissertation adds to the literature in a big way.

3) The first empirical chapter shows that world society (measures by INGOs) affects attitudes.  But, then in a very nice touch, Louisa shows that the liberal attitudes accelerate state policy adoption of LGBT-friendly policies, such as same-sex marriage laws.  So, states are “squeezed” from above (by world society pressures) and from below (by citizens, whose attitudes are shaped by world society).  I think this is an increasingly common dynamic — sort of a top-down world society version of Keck and Sikkink’s “boomerang”.  One place this is discussed is in a 2016 Social Forces article by Wes Longhofer, David Frank, Natasha Miric, and myself… though I think others have played with variants of this idea.  Anyhow, Louisa shows the process very well.

In Fall Louisa will be starting her new job as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota.  Congratulations on that, too!!!

Human Rights: Myth and Consequences?

Wade sent me and Ann some of his recent work on human rights.  He’s got some great papers, including one coming out in the AJS.  More congrats to Wade!  He’s really on a roll!

Anyhow, the papers take on a really important issue:  the conditions under which global institutions actually have meaningful consequences, versus being loosely coupled.  It is a really important direction for world society research.  (Ann and I have a paper in Social Forces that looks at environmental outcomes… and are thinking about doing more research along these lines.)

The AJS paper is entitled “Human Rights as Myth and Ceremony?  Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Human Rights Treaties.”  The paper addresses recent work, including a widely cited AJS paper by Emilie Hafner-Burton and Kiyo Tsutsui, showing that treaty signing is negatively associated with subsequent practices.  The literature concludes that treaties are “just talk”, or that treaties only matter in highly specific contexts.

Wade’s paper improves on the literature in two ways:  1) He delves much more into the substance of the treaties, looking at specific amendments and optional provisions that nations might sign — which might affect specific kinds of human rights outcomes; and 2) He addresses the possibility that treaty signing itself may be endogenous, via an instrumental variables model.

The AJS paper shows that nations making stronger treaty commitments tend to improve on various measures of human rights.  So, HR treaties do matter after all, it seems…  Go world polity!

The second paper, “Decoupling Reconsidered: Accounting for the Implementation Gap in Human Rights Treaties” looks at the state-level factors associated with loose coupling.  The paper is really terrific and deserves a close read.  But, in a nutshell, stable regimes are more likely to successfully implement treaties.  This fits really well with Ann’s prior work on weak states…  which often commit huge atrocities in the context of extreme disorder or civil conflict.  In other words, loose coupling probably isn’t “strategic” window dressing, but rather reflects the very limited state capacities of many countries.

Wade is looking for feedback as he revises the paper, so check it out:  Wade Cole Decoupling Reconsidered.pdf  Actually, knowing him, you’d better hurry with comments… I’m sure it will be in print soon!  🙂

Individuals v. States

Wade Cole sent me an excellent paper entitled:  “Individuals v. States:  An Analysis of Human Rights Committee Rulings, 1979-2007.”

The paper is about complaints issued to the Human Rights Committee (HRC) under the First Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (a key human rights treaty).  Specifically, he analyzes which countries are found to be “violators” and which tend to be exonerated… both as a function of country-level characteristics and also characteristics of the complaints themselves.

Like the International Criminal Court  (ICC), the HRC is an international forum… in this case, where individuals can lodge complaints against states for a wide range of human rights violations.  These types of international institutions are a great topic to study… and Wade shows the extent to which these kinds of institutions are used — and how much they actually rule against states.

Wade also does a great job of characterizing the nature of the Human Rights regime.  It is clear that the HRC is rather toothless… it issues non-binding “views” — they can’t even call them “rulings”, as that might encroach on state sovereignty.  But, Wade also give a sense of the potential cultural/symbolic/normative import of these (and other) international institutions — which both world society research as well as constructivists in Poli Sci have emphasized.

The main country-level findings:  Rich (i.e., mainly Western) countries are more likely to be “exonerated” by the HRC and less likely to be viewed as a violator.  That isn’t shocking, but important to know (and consistent with a variety of theoretical perspectives).  Meanwhile, newly democratizing countries — those in transition — are the opposite.

The paper also looks at the content:  what kinds of claims generate rulings against states.  Wade finds that claims about due process (& detention) and basic liberties are most often viewed as violations — as compared, say, to complaints about voting rights, family issues, and the like.  It sounds like the HRC is most aggressive on the “traditional” home turf of the HR regime… and less willing to support claims on “softer” issues.

Anyhow, Wade mentioned that he’s revising it, so I’m sure he’d welcome comments/reactions.  Here is the current draft:

Cole Individuals v States HRC Rulings.pdf

Edit:  I emailed Wade with some thoughts about the models… and he mentions some future directions and related work:

Wade writes:  “I’m currently undertaking more detailed analyses to determine if the composition of the HRC along various lines (political, cultural, etc.) influences rulings. I’m especially interested in interaction and period effects – for instance, are Western countries more likely to be found in violation as the number of HRC members from communist countries increases during the Cold War, and are non-Western countries more likely to be found in violation as the number of Western members increases after the Cold War? I hope I have sufficient sample sizes for these sorts of analyses.”
“Incidentally, I have a companion paper under R&R at International Sociology which finds that violations do, in some cases, have a positive effect on subsequent practices. The effect varied by type of abuse: infractions of civil rights and religious freedom were more susceptible to change than was abuse of physical integrity rights such as torture. These findings made good sense to me.”

Human Rights in Textbooks

More good news.  John Meyer told me that his paper, with Tricia (Martin) Bromley and Chiqui Ramirez was recently accepted at Sociology of Education!

The paper comes out of their major ongoing project to code textbooks from a large number of countries.  I’m a big fan of the project.  Sociologists of education are mainly concerned with stratification, and one consequence is that the curriculum hasn’t garnered much attention (except, of course, in narrow ways that relate to stratification).

This project examines the curriculum in a new light:  as one of the important forms of institutionalized cultural knowledge in society.  Curricula reflect dominant cultural themes of modernity — and so global analyses of the curriculum shed light on global culture.

The curriculum is also a particularly consequential form of institutionalized culture… because it is transmitted to kids through schooling.  The curriculum — and education systems more generally — consolidate and reproduce modern culture.  This project, in my opinion, reflects a really important new direction for institutional theory and for the study of modern culture/knowledge.  (Another example is David Frank and Jay Gabler’s book Reconstructing the University.)

Anyhow, the paper has some nice models identifying the key factors associated with high levels of emphasis on human rights in school textbooks around the world.  Human rights appears in textbooks increasingly over time (especially after the mid-1990s), particularly in those that are very student-centric and focus on international issues.  At the country level, some measures of individualism and economic development predict human rights.

The descriptive material and analysis of the content of human rights discourse really make the paper shine.  The paper gives a powerful sense of how the curriculum is increasingly globally defined — with a content that enshrines the importance of the empowered individual.

Here’s a pre-publication version:

Meyer Bromley Ramirez Human Rights in Textbooks SOE May 4.11.10.pdf

Human Rights Language in Constitutions

Colin Beck just sent me a couple of papers.  This one, written with Gili Drori and John Meyer, looks at human rights enshrined in constitutions around the world.

This is a great issue.  Obviously, there is a huge global human rights regime… but one wonders how much of this actually gets institutionalized at the national level.  Well, this paper addresses that question.

Some of the key empirical findings:  1) This is obviously a global process… and therefore countries with strong ties to the human rights regime are much more likely to incorporate human rights into their constitutions in various ways.  2) Older countries and countries that haven’t revised their constitutions since the rise of the human rights regime tend not to address human rights in their constitutions. 3) Democracy tends to have a positive effect, but it loses significance when you include all the global variables.

Some other interesting tidbits:

1) A focus on human rights doesn’t seem to displace or supplant existing ways of thinking about rights in general.  Rather, they are “added on” to constitutions on top of all the other kinds of rights.

2) The paper examines whether “post-conflict” societies have more mentions of human rights.  They don’t get an effect (on average, across all cases).  But, there are some conspicuous examples.  Uganda, Serbia, Bosnia, and El Salvador are all really big into human rights, at least in their constitutions…

3) New Zealand has a 1,200 page constitution.  (The mean is around 60.)  There are 278 mentions of human rights… wow.  Glad I didn’t have to code that one!

Anyhow, take a look at the paper:  Beck, Drori, Meyer Human Rights Constitutions June 2010.pdf

One thing:  I’m now curious to see more descriptive information on the content of human rights in constitutions.  What kinds of global discourses tend to get incorporated?  Which don’t?  And, do the patterns vary across different types of countries (e.g., democracies versus non-democracies)?

International Communication and Global Culture

John Meyer emailed me about an interesting paper at ASA:

Rob Clark and Jason Hall presented a paper entitled “The International Telecommunications Network and Human Rights.”  The paper explores the idea that global telecommunication may be a useful measure of global cultural embeddedness, similar to “INGO membership”.  It turns out that their measure predicts human rights scores.

It is really important to keep developing measures of global embeddedness, going beyond what we have — which is pretty much just measures of international association (INGOs).

Obviously, INGOs are great.  John Boli & George Thomas’s book (Constructing World Culture) does a great job of explaining how INGOs are an important embodiment of world culture.  And, INGOs work really well in predicting a lot of things.  AND, people have largely come to accept INGOs as the “standard” way to test world polity effects.  But, it isn’t great to be wholly dependent on a single measure which, like all cross-national data, has its quirks.  Moreover, there’s a tendency to reify measures — to start thinking that INGOs = world culture, and to forget about other interesting stuff, like communication, media, movement of people/students, etc.

Anyhow, John Meyer had an exchange with the authors of this new paper and learned how they created their measure.  They started with a matrix of calls to & from each country (separately for incoming and outgoing calls).  Then they dichotomized — essentially creating dummies of whether any dyad has a relationship.  Finally, they used degree centrality — calculating the total number of other countries a given country is linked to.  Also, since telecommunication was strongly correlated with INGOs, they residualized the telecom variable to reduce collinearity.

The authors found that (residualized) incoming telecommunication had a positive effect on human rights scores.  Outgoing calls didn’t.

Seems like a reasonable approach.  Of course, one could think of other good ways to do it — which would be worth trying — such as normalizing by country size in some way, or dealing with the actual density of calls.  Also, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the zeros were all real or might include missing data.  Finally, it would be useful to see which countries score high/how.  I wondered:  Are the paper’s findings general to all cases, or mainly due to a few extreme “basket case” countries like North Korea, which might be outliers?

Anyhow, I was really glad to learn of this interesting paper.  It suggests a new direction for thinking about and operationalizing world polity/world society processes.  We should definitely be exploring this type of data.

Child Rights INGO Membership Data

Minzee Kim has generously shared her child rights INGO membership data.  I quote from her description of the data:

“Country membership in core child rights INGO data come from the Yearbook of International Organizations (various years), which reports country memberships annually from 1982 and periodically from 1967. Using the 2006-2007 version, all organizations under the following seven relevant subjects were examined.

  1. Society/youth
  2. Society/infants
  3. Human Rights Organizations
  4. Humanitarian Orgaizations
  5. innovative change/Rights
  6. Social Activity/Welfare
  7. Society/Disadvantaged

595 child well-being related INGOs were indentified and 93 of those were identified as core child rights INGOs. Among the 93 core child rights INGOs, 53 had membership information. Based on the 53 child rights INGOs, country membership in child rights INGOs were constructed. County membership information in the 53 child rights INGOs were constructed using 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005 versions of the Yearbook of International Organizations.”

Minzee:  Thanks for your hard work and your willingness to share the data!