Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research

2016 Visiting Research Fellow in Human Rights Law

Visiting Fellow Profile

The Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research welcomed Dr David McGrogan as its inaugural Visiting Research Fellow in Human Rights Law, for the 2016-2017 academic year. David is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Northumbria University and Director of its International Law Research Interest Group. In a previous life, David worked as a legal translator in Japan. His interests in law, language and culture led him to write a PhD thesis (at the University of Liverpool) on cultural relativism in human rights law and the ‘Asian Values’ debate. He had not realised at the time that the international human rights system, such as it is, had circumvented the thorny question of cultural relativism by creating ever-more ‘objective’ and statistical methods for measuring human rights performance. The sociology of this phenomenon – what it reveals about power and struggle in the international sphere – is now his primary area of research interest.

Research Undertaken at the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research

Dr McGrogan took up this post during the Autumn 2016 teaching term at the University of Sussex. During that period, he worked on a paper which built on two recently published articles (in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly and the European Journal of International Law), which describe some epistemological and political problems with the move towards quantitative human rights measurement. The new paper took on a Foucauldian perspective, charting the shift in the international human rights system towards what could be best described as ‘governmentality’, which deploys human rights as a technology: a set of tools for rendering populations transparent to intervention by both the State and international institutions.

Also working on some avenues of future research, David considered: interview-based research with practitioners engaged in human rights monitoring and impact-assessment; and the question of machine-learning and ‘the internet of things’ and what effect future technological developments may have on the measurement, protection and violation of human rights. David enjoyed discussing his research, including these future prospects, with those at the Centre. He gave two seminar presentations in the Rights Research Series for Autumn 2016. 

Research Seminars

Wednesday 12 October 2016

David introduced his research on the shift to human rights audits: epistemological and political concerns. This built upon two previous publications: 

Human Rights Indicators and the Sovereignty of Technique” European Journal of International Law (2016) 27 (2): 385-408 

Indicators are increasingly used in international human rights monitoring, and time, expertise and resources are being devoted in ever-growing quantities to the production of more apparently powerful and sophisticated ways to objectively measure human rights performance. However, there is a certain level of resistance and scepticism to the statistical measurement of human rights on the part of many practitioners and advocates, who argue that it is reductionist and disruptive to their work. This article uses the writing of Michael Oakeshott as a lens through which to examine the shift towards indicators and argues that it is a project that is strongly characterized by rationalism: a desire for certainty, uniformity and clarity that neglects the experiential, tacit, and conversational. This not only provides a method for analysing the dangers present in the phenomenon but also explains why the reliance on indicators and other measurement methods seems destined to grow despite the reservations held by practitioners and scholars alike.

The Problem of Causality in International Human Rights Law” ICLQ (2016) 65: 615–644 

The field of human rights monitoring has become preoccupied with statistical methods for measuring performance, such as benchmarks and indicators. This is reflected within human rights scholarship, which has become increasingly ‘empirical’ in its approach. However, the relevant actors developing statistical approaches typically treat causality somewhat blithely, and this causes critical problems for such projects. This article suggests that resources—whether temporal or fiscal—may be better allocated towards improving methods for identifying violations rather than developing complicated, but ultimately ineffective, statistical methods for monitoring human rights performance.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

"The Population and the Individual: the Human Rights Audit as the Governmentalization of Global Human Rights Governance"