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Tackling Issues of Human Rights and Globalization

by Stacey S. Merola, ASA Staff Writer

In recent years, protests of organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have brought ever-increasing attention to the economic and social issues of globalization. As the reach of the U.S. economy has become more global, there has been increased discussion, in both the media and academic circles, over the rights of international workers in the wake of global corporate expansion. Issues of sovereignty have emerged with clashes between the laws of countries and policies the WTO and IMF determine are necessary for fostering unhindered trade and free-market economies. There has also been increased discussion pertaining to what role the international community (and the US in particular) should play in preventing and stopping human rights abuses. In the midst of these debates, some sociologists, Robert D. Manning and Thomas Cushman, have joined the fray and created interdisciplinary forums for the scholarly discussion of these issues.

Manning is the new Caroline Werner Gannett Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is coordinating the 2001-2002 Gannett Lecture Series, “Globalization, Human Rights, and Citizenship,” the focus of which is the economic, political, and social issues of globalization. According to Manning, “The goal of the lecture series is to critically examine some of the most provocative issues that confront us today. These include the importance of social indicators in evaluating national development, enforcement of human rights violations, negotiation of transnational environmental standards, rising power of multinational corporations, role of supranational institutions like United Nations and WTO, civic responsibility in a era of transnational communities, regulation of international population movements, growth of slavery and our responsibilities as global citizens.”

In Manning’s view, “The tragic events in New York and Washington, D.C. highlight the increasing importance of globalization in all of our lives. As the changing pattern of world trade profoundly shape our national living standards and the vitality of our local communities, it is also dramatically transforming the social and cultural foundations of many so-called ‘developing’ nations. The rapidity of these changes, together with heightened fears over preserving their national sovereignty, environmental standards, and traditional cultural values, is contributing to growing social and political movements in developing countries in order to resist the growing political and cultural influence of the United States and multinational corporations.”

Speakers for the 2001-2002 year include activists, historians, political scientists and poets, as well as sociologists. Some of the sociologists that have been featured as speakers this year are Christopher Chase-Dunn and Saskia Sassen. The series will also feature at the end of January a business-labor roundtable where corporate executives and an organized labor representative from Rochester will discuss the “challenges and opportunities” of globalization. All talks in the Gannett Lecture Series at the Rochester Institute of Technology are free and open to the public. A complete schedule and more information can be found at http://www.rit.edu/gannettseries.

Thomas Cushman, a professor at Wellesley College, has founded a new journal, The Journal of Human Rights, which he describes as “ a forum committed to the interdisciplinary understanding of all aspects of human rights.” The first issue of this new journal will be published in March of 2002 by Taylor & Francis publishers. As described by Cushman, the aim of the new journal is to “broaden the study of human rights by fostering the critical re-examination of existing approaches to human rights, as well as to develop new perspectives on the theory and practice of human rights.” The first issue will feature essays and reviews from sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and human rights practitioners.

Cushman, who has just received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to study the relationship between theory and practice in the field of human rights, hopes through this journal to unite more closely the disciplines of sociology and human rights. In his view, “The project of sociology from its earliest beginnings is intimately related to the question of rights: the attempt to understand freedom, autonomy and individuality in the modern world, the sources of social inequality, domination and repression, organized forms of violence and a whole host of other topics are central to sociology, as they are to those in the field of human rights.”

Cushman has additional plans to establish a Human Rights Group, which would bring together sociologists who are interested in the scholarly study of human rights. As he describes it, “Such a movement already exists within anthropology and, to an even greater extent in political science, and there is no logical reason why sociology should be marginal with respect to the scholarly study of human rights.” The Journal of Human Rights is an apt forum for such scholarship. Those interested in further information can contract the Journal regarding paper submissions, ideas for special issues, symposia and reviews at JHR@wellesley.edu.