Researching Human Rights in International Relations and its Practical Implications – Sarah Brockmeier & Ashley Gongaware

Rückblick 13.05. – Lecture by Sarah Brockmeier and Ashley Gongaware: “Researching Human Rights in International Relations and its Practical Implications”

Ashley Gongaware und Sarah Brockmeier
Ashley Gongaware und Sarah Brockmeier (from left to right)

Focusing on research experience and methodology rather than results, the session on the 13th of May gave the extraordinary opportunity inside the lecture series to engage in conversation about what researching in the human rights field can look like and what it implies. With input by two guest speakers, Ashley Gongaware and Sarah Brockmeier, the session evolved into a space for in depth discussions with a smaller number of attendees.

Discussing methodology based on research concerning Roma expulsions in the EU

Presenting the methods of her doctoral research, Ashley Gongaware emphasized that there are two different ways to find yourself a research topic: you have a theory that you want to prove, or you examine a specific problem that you want to solve or interpret. She calls the first approach “theory-driven” in comparison to the second “problem-driven” research. Her current work on Roma expulsion from the EU belongs more to the second type, she stated.

One piece of advice given to the audience was to always choose a research design consciously and on a logical basis to ensure the adequacy for the problem or theory chosen to research. She herself chose to work with discourse analysis to examine how conflict parties wrap their messages and to analyze the content as well as the language used to mobilize people. Gongaware wants to answer the question where there are differences in the framing of messages between populists and Roma supporters/human rights activists and how they mobilize or do not mobilize not only “regular people” but also politicians. She does this using a technique called “Process Tracing”.

In the last step, she tries to narrow her gathered data by using structured, focused comparison. She also pointed out, that there might be discrepancies between a researcher’s first assumption concerning his research and the reality. For example, she talked about advocacy that may help to protect human rights but also to violate them depending on the laws. At last she wished there would be more research beginning on the micro-level with the activists instead of theoretical approaches, but also doubted the applicability of this approach in official research departments or universities.

Theoretical and practical engagement with the “Responsibility to Protect” and genocide

Sarah Brockmeier currently works on a project about global norm evolution with a focus on the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi). The R2P principle requires states to take diplomatic, economic or military measures to protect populations in another state if this state fails to protect its populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or war crimes. Brockmeier researches debates on R2P over the last 10 years and how they shaped this concept.

Apart from GPPi, she also works at the NGO “Genocide Alert”, which works on the prevention of genocides and mass atrocities. As an example for her research and work at Genocide Alert, Sarah Brockmeier talked about the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago and stated that information gathering as well as the interpretation of early warning signs failed also within the German government. Brockmeier described her work as challenging not only because of the complementary approach of activists and researchers but because of the time consumption of two part-time jobs, which means always struggling to give both of them the attention necessary.

Brockmeier discussed her complementary jobs which influence her in researching and questions if a neutral research in general is possible She acknowledged that every researcher has his/her own opinion on R2P or any other topic, but she believes that – as long as a researcher is aware of his or her own biases – he or she can produce high quality research.  In her opinion every research is normative biased, it is more a matter of knowing how to deal with one’s own biases. .

Overall, the two concise presentations and the following vivid discussion gave people in the audience a good impression of possible research perspectives in the field of international relations, insights into its applicability and the opportunity to learn about the questions and challenges researches in human rights face. We thank our two presenters for this contribution to our lecture series.

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