Rights and Their Translation Into Practice I (2011): Description

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Welcome to "Rights and Their Translation into Practice: Toward a Synthetic Approach," a series of two inter-disciplinary and international National Science Foundation funded conferences, the first around global social, economic and cultural rights and the second around political and civil rights both in the US and globally. The first conference was held Friday, April 22-Sunday, April 24, 2011. The Law and Social Science Program at the NSF funded the two conferences and we are very grateful to the Program, current Program Directors Scott Barclay and Christian Meissner and immediate past program director Wendy Martinek.

The premise of our conferences is two-fold. On the one hand, rights and conditions of their realization are contested terrain in scholarly inquiry and in law, policy making and implementation in the United States and around the world. Rights scholarship is broadly interdisciplinary and includes legal scholars, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, historians and political scientists, among others. Across all these fields, rights intended to benefit the marginalized or disadvantaged, including the poor or otherwise economically disadvantaged, workers, women, racial, ethnic, religious, national origin and sexual orientation minorities, indigenous peoples, immigrants, children, illegal residents and those convicted of crimes and imprisoned or previously imprisoned, are a core concern. Much progress has been made theorizing and examining empirically how legal rights on the books, included those provided in constitutions, statutory and judicial law, international conventions, resolutions and treaties, translate--or fail to translate--into social change benefitting marginalized or disadvantaged persons and groups.

On the other hand, rights scholarship typically has been segmented both in terms of categories of rights addressed and in terms of place or scale. Scholars who work on civil and political rights in the United States, including voting rights for ex-felons, collective bargaining rights for workers and the right to be free from race, gender and religious discrimination in education, housing and employment, draw minimally on global human rights literatures and vice versa. In the global arena, the literature on what often are called human integrity rights--the right to be free from torture, disappearance, extra-judicial killing or imprisonment--remains mostly separate from the burgeoning literature on global economic, social and cultural rights, including a right to education, health care, water, housing, sustainability and social assistance. Focused mostly on the less developed world, literature on global, economic, social and cultural rights remains mostly separate from literature on comparative welfare states and social rights to pensions, unemployment assistance, family allowances, workplace safety, public assistance and health care in the European Union and other advanced industrial democracies.

The goal we envision for our two workshop-style conferences is progress toward empirical integration and theoretical synthesis across these various, heretofore mostly segmented literatures. We do not propose to debate the normative contours or justifications for particular categories of rights, nor to provide a definitive typology of rights or enter into debates about which specific rights fit into which more generally categories. Rather, we recognize and propose to explore further the multiple pathways through which rights "on the books" are more or less likely to be realized "in action," synthesizing and advancing parallel issues and debates across what have been mostly separate areas. The April 2011 workshop-style conference will focus on global economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) and will innovate by including scholars and practitioners that work on civil and political rights (CPR), including but not restricted to human integrity rights, as commentators on papers given by those who work on ESCR. The April 2012 workshop-style conference will focus on CPR, but will innovate by including scholars and practitioners who work on ESPR as commentators on papers given by those who work on CPR.

Based on the two conferences, co-organizers Robin Stryker, University of Arizona and LaDawn Haglund, Arizona State University, plan to co-edit a volume or volumes that will include revised versions of many of the papers and perhaps also commentaries that are presented at the conferences. The core idea is to advance knowledge about the multiple actors, factors and social mechanisms that shape whether, how and the degree to which rights on the books are made real in practice. Central research and discussion questions for both conferences are broad: What are the conditions under which and social mechanisms through which rights on the books are more or less likely to be translated effectively into rights in practice? Who are the actors, and what are the factors and conditions that shape rights translation processes? How, when and where do legal rights promote social change to the benefit of economically, politically, socially or culturally disadvantaged or marginalized populations?