Seeing Double: Human Rights Impact through Qualitative and Quantitative Eyes
Abstract

Abstract:

Over the past two decades, human rights language has spread like wildfire across international policy arenas. The activists who sparked this fire are engaged in two different campaigns. The first is comparatively modest, involving the persuasion of tens of thousands of global elites such as journalists, UN officials, donors, and national political leaders. The second is broader and more complex: to have a real impact on the behavior of tens of millions of state agents worldwide. While most international relations scholars agree that the first campaign has made real gains, opinions are split on the success—past, present, and future—of the second. In part, these divisions fall along methodological lines. With some exceptions, qualitative scholars working in the empirical international relations tradition express more optimism than their quantitative counterparts, whose contributions to the subfield are relatively new. This article reviews several new books on human rights and shows how their insights engage with these ongoing methodological debates. The authors argue that both qualitative and quantitative approaches offer important strengths and that neither has a monopoly on truth. Still, the human rights discourse may be thriving, at least in part, for reasons unrelated to impact. The authors conclude with suggestions for a more systematic and multimethod research, along with a plea for scholarly attention to the potential downsides of international human rights promotion.