Sociology and Human Rights: A Bill of Rights for the Twenty-First Century


Edited by: Judith Blau & Mark Frezzo

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  • Dedication

    Dedicated to John Lewis, Congressman, U.S. House of Representatives, for his exemplary efforts to advance equality, justice, and human rights in the United States.

    Sociology for a New Century Series

    Sociology and Human Rights: A Bill of Rights for the Twenty-First Century, Judith Blau and Mark Frezzo

    The Sociology of Childhood, Third Edition, William A. Corsaro

    Constructing Social Research, Second Edition, Charles C. Ragin and Lisa M. Amoroso

    Beyond a Border: The Causes and Consequences of Contemporary Immigration, Peter Kivisto and Thomas Faist

    Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, Second Edition, Wendy Griswold

    Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective, Fourth Edition, Philip McMichael

    The Changing Contours of Work, Stephen Sweet and Peter Meiksins

    Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective, Pamela Paxton and Melanie M. Hughes

    Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World, Second Edition, Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartmann

    Gods in the Global Village: The World's Religions in Sociological Perspective, Second Edition, Lester R. Kurtz

    Cities in a World Economy, Third Edition, Saskia Sassen

    How Societies Change, Daniel Chirot

    Economy/Society, Bruce G. Carruthers and Sarah Babb

    Global Inequalities, York W. Bradshaw and Michael Wallace

    Crime and Disrepute, John Hagan

    Waves of Democracy: Social Movements and Political Change, John Markoff

    Aging, Social Inequality, and Public Policy, Fred C. Pampel

    Women and Men at Work, Second Edition, Barbara Reskin and Irene Padavic

    Making Societies: The Historical Construction of Our World, William G. Roy


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    Foreword: There is no other Option!


    We live in a world without moral borders. Many of us who are engaged in interdisciplinary analysis combined with social activism have abandoned (or never fully held) the holistic approach in assessing symptoms and causes, urgencies, and/or long-term solutions theoretically or practically to this challenging development. It is not often that the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of human rights concerns become part of a genuine systemic analysis that stands to avail us with the necessary compass for real economic and social transformation. Yet the increasing complexity of the world demands this holistic response to its many challenges.

    Many around the globe whose rights are not actively protected become vulnerable to the three Ps: Patriarchy, Power, and Politics. What is most disheartening is the lack of an ongoing dialogue throughout all sectors of society about human rights. This volume tries to redress this gap. We who are facilitating learning processes at the community level speak of developing Human Rights Cities through learning human rights as a way of life. In 20 years of working around the world, I have witnessed firsthand how the vision and mission of human rights answers the dreams, hopes, and expectation of humanity, moving charity to dignity.

    The reader for whose attention this volume most likely vies is a scientist engaged in the study of human society, social relations, and change—of the beliefs and values, of societal groups, and of the processes governing social phenomena—and is willing to view the social world from the perspective of others, addressing social structure with interrelated parts.

    These words describe succinctly the purpose, the processes, and the phenomena of social structures as understood by the framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They give credibility to people's own hopes, their values, and their dignity and make the promise for human rights to serve humanity. Indeed, the holistic human rights framework guides communities into a journey of hope that informs societal development and positive change toward economic and social justice and the closing of the widening gap of dignity around the world.

    More than 2 billion people live in cities today. Cities are a microcosm of a state with all its promises and concerns. Four billion people will live in cities within 15 to 20 years. With the multitudes of people and issues interacting and interrelating, there is no inherent knowledge, support system, or guidance regarding how to live with one another in dignity and how practically to abide by moral values in today's fast-changing and harsh world. The multiple and pluralist realities of people in the information age and the growing number of people (of which 50 percent are under 25 years old) need urgently to be attended to, morally and politically. Scientists and researchers devoting their lives to learn about, analyze, and understand societies must learn about human rights and bring the message to a world that is yearning for change.

    To move from the vision to a practical mission that enables people to belong to a community in dignity, with trust and respect for others, a new phenomenon has begun to take form, in some cities in Latin America, Africa, and recently the United States. Community activists working alongside local authorities are developing programs that will have their citizens learn about, know, and own human rights and take actions to change their lives guided by the human rights framework. Certain cities have chosen to call themselves “Human Rights Cities” when they aspire to become centers for knowledge. These cities encourage their citizens to work together to build communities based on economic and social justice, equality, and non-discrimination, realizing that we have no other option but human rights as a way of life.

    In Human Rights Cities, we remind ourselves what a true human rights educator is: a person, a woman or a man, who is capable of evoking systemic analysis and critical thinking, at the community level, guided by the fully comprehensive human rights framework that leads to action. This is a tall order both for the educator and for the learner. Yet the call of Nelson Mandela to develop a new political culture based on human rights is being investigated and implemented by, for, and with the people as they become mentors and monitors in a Human Rights City.

    The assumptions being made in developing human rights cities are as follows:

    • Every woman, man, youth, and child knows when injustice and/or justice is present.
    • Every human being expects to live in dignity and free from humiliation.
    • The holistic human rights framework provides a viable guideline for economic, societal, and human development.
    • Millions of people will be born and die and will never know that they are owners of human rights that they can claim as their own to break through the vicious cycle of humiliation.
    • Human rights represent not only a litany of their violations but strategies for social and economic development.
    • People belong in dignity in community with others, women and men alike.
    • If we are to achieve economic and social justice, no one human right can violate another, and all conflicts must be solved within the human rights framework.
    • Democracy, to be true to its mission, must be a delivery system of human rights to all, in full equality and without discrimination.
    • People can move power to human rights—moving from patriarchal verticality to human rights horizontality.

    In a Human Rights City, people consciously internalize and socialize to overcome fear and impoverishment. The city provides human security—access to food, housing, education, health care, and work at liveable wages—sharing these resources with all citizens, not as a gift but as the realization of human rights. A Human Rights City is a practical, viable model that demonstrates that developing and living in such a society is possible. Often joined by the local authorities and law enforcement agencies, residents work together with a wide array of stakeholders and organizations to devise and design a dialogue and learning programs in the neighborhoods. The purpose of these is to instill a sense of ownership of human rights as a way of life as relevant to people's concerns. The city, its institutions, and its residents, as a complex social economic and political entity, become a model for citizens' participation in their social, economic, and cultural development. This process leads to the mapping and analysis of causes and symptoms of violations such as poverty and patriarchy and work by citizens to design ways and means to achieve the well-being of every person in their city.

    As human rights are realized, people no longer live in fear and desperation, so conflict is often avoided altogether. Appropriate conflict resolution is an inevitable consequence of the learning process as women and men work to secure the sustainability of their community as a viable, creative, and caring society.

    Steering committees in Human Rights Cities represent public sector employees; religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community groups; community activists working on the issues of women, children, workers, indigenous peoples, poverty, education, food, housing, health care, environment, and conflict resolution; and all other nonaffiliated inhabitants. These committees work together to design the process of learning and reflecting about the ownership of human rights as significant to the decision-making process. Together they design actions that ensure that democracy abides by human rights principles, norms, and standards and that these are integrated in the policies that guide the life of the city. They work to strengthen activities that ensure community development and accountability. Individuals and groups take part in the action—every citizen is considered a creative partner of sustainable change. And, as they identify needs, they adopt this inclusive framework, giving momentum to attain a better life for future generations.

    After learning about the various human rights treaties that their government has ratified, an analysis with a human rights perspective would examine the following:

    • The laws of the city. Do these abide by human rights?
    • The policies that guide the life of the city. Are they guided by the obligations undertaken and commitments made?
    • The relationships in the city, in the community, and with the authorities. Are they developing a community guided by the human rights principles?

    To achieve these goals the democratic committees create a vertical and horizontal progressive learning process. Step by step, neighborhoods; schools; political, economic, and social institutions; and NGOs examine the human rights framework, relating it to their traditional beliefs, collective memory, and aspirations with regard to environmental, economic, and social justice issues and concerns. As agents of change, they learn to identify, mentor, monitor, and document their needs and engage in one of the most important actions in the city: developing alternative participatory budgets progressively to realize the human rights needs of the community, thus moving power to human rights.

    It is important to note that human rights learning and socialization highlights the normative and empirical power of human rights as a tool in individual and collective efforts to address inequalities, injustices, and abuses at home, in the workplace, in the streets, in prisons, in courts, and more. Even in recognized democracies, citizens and policymakers must learn to understand human rights and the obligations and responsibilities they represent in a holistic and comprehensive way. In Human Rights Cities people learn to enforce human rights effectively. As an integral part of social responsibility, citizens can demand that their cities ratify various human rights covenants and conventions to accordingly scrutinize domestic laws, policies, resources, and relationships.

    Finally, it must be noted that the Human Rights Cities are not an urban or a utopian agenda. Cities are microcosms of states. And as with the state, the city and its institutions are complex social, economic, and political entities. All the usual day-to-day economic problems, societal dilemmas, and stressful issues of inequality, discrimination, violence, and poverty that are present in a state are present in cities with greater intensity.

    In summary, it is evident that all political, civil, economic, social, and cultural human rights concerns for which human rights norms and standards have been elaborated are present in the life of the city. Social responsibility is a major result of these activities where people own and claim their human rights and those of others, within their social and economic realities. And most important, people will experience the power that grows from the knowledge that each individual can make a difference.

    This is not about Utopia. This is about hope—a new understanding of human rights to change the world.


    For intellectual and practical reasons, there is no better partnership than sociology and human rights. Sociologists are concerned with human welfare and decent societies. By this we mean that sociologists want to understand how societies can promote nondiscrimination, social equality (the right to food, housing, and education), labor rights, cultural rights, civil and political rights, the right to information, migrants' rights, and economic justice. Many sociologists are now becoming interested in how humans and their habitats can adjust to climate change and alter its effects. This volume is an expression and celebration of that partnership. Needless to say, the authors recognize that the field of human rights is interdisciplinary, with anthropology, political science, law, philosophy, and other disciplines making significant contributions. Nevertheless, sociologists place a distinct emphasis on human welfare and societies (including the communities of which they are composed), instead of, say, the legal frameworks of human rights or their philosophical underpinnings.

    Human rights scholars are intellectually rigorous, and many use sophisticated quantitative techniques that are prevalent in the sciences, including the social sciences. Still, scientific work that presupposes human rights assumptions differs from mainstream scientific work in that it explicitly affirms human values and does not pretend to be neutral. Far from being idiosyncratic, these values are universal and formalized in international human rights laws. For this reason, the partnership of human rights and science ought to have broad legitimacy. For example, people may not agree about how to craft school policies and funding mechanisms, but they do agree that education should be provided to all youngsters. Thus, research dedicated to the aim of bringing the right to education to fruition should be universally welcome.

    The subtitle for our book—A Bill of Rights for the Twenty-First Century—reflects our view that the U.S. Constitution needs to robustly reflect current international laws about human rights. Most governments have ratified human rights treaties and have incorporated them into their constitutions. The constitutions of most rich countries, such as Spain and Sweden, and those of most poor countries, such as Bolivia and Croatia, enumerate the social and economic rights to which all their citizens ought to enjoy. Of course, not all people in Bolivia and Croatia have attained the security and well-being that accompany these rights, and neither have all the people in Spain and Sweden. Nevertheless, articulating such rights in a constitution provides people with shared principles and makes governments accountable. In this volume, authors discuss the human rights treaties that have shaped countries' constitutional provisions, suggesting the implications for the U.S. Constitution, or an expanded Bill of Rights.

    The partnership between sociology and human rights is a new one, especially in the United States, which is the motivation for this book. We provide readers with a wide-ranging collection of topics, each covered by experts in their fields. An organization that has accelerated and strengthened sociologists' interest in the field has been the scholarly NGO Sociologists without Borders/Sociólogos sin Fronteras, or SSF. In addition to its webpage and an interactive space,1 it has a peer-reviewed, open-access journal.2 Because SSF is global, it is a space where people from all over the world can discuss and debate issues related to human rights with interesting detours into the topics of public goods, the environment, and culture. Both editors have been involved with SSF, as well as with the Human Rights Section of the American Sociological Association and the Thematic Group on Human Rights and Global Justice in the International Sociological Association. Blau has also been active in the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    We both acknowledge our students for their inquisitiveness, their eagerness to learn, and their openness to human rights assumptions. We are especially appreciative and thankful for the support and professionalism of the editorial and production staff of Pine Forge Press: Libby Larson, Melinda Masson, Dave Repetto, and Maggie Stanley. As all contemporary authors and editors probably know, it takes an e-village to “raise” a book. Blau would like to thank Rafael Gallegos, who has been the teaching assistant for her course on human rights for two years and is associate director for the Human Rights Center. There are many others to thank for their devoted work at the center, especially Nancy Hilburn and Alfonso Hernandez. She also thanks the nearly 150 University of North Carolina students who have contributed to its programs over the last two years. Frezzo would like to thank his “virtual colleagues” in the fields of human rights and peace studies for encouraging—whether directly or indirectly—his scholarly and pedagogical pursuits.

  • About the Editors

    Judith Blau is a professor at the University of North Carolina, and from 2000 to 2010 she served as the director of the Social and Economic Justice program, which includes over 60 courses. She is president of Sociologists without Borders and founding editor of its journal, Societies without Borders. She has published 18 books, including four with Alberto Moncada, Human Rights: Beyond the Liberal Vision (2005), Justice in the United States (2006), Freedoms and Solidarities (2007), and Human Rights (2009). She has served as president of the Southern Sociological Society and now serves on the executive committee of the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is the director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro (North Carolina).

    Mark Frezzo is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi. He has published book chapters in Overcoming the “Two Cultures”: Science versus the Humanities in the Modern World-System (2004), The World and US Social Forums: A Better World Is Possible and Necessary (2008), and The Leading Rogue State: The U.S. and Human Rights (2008), articles in Perspectives on Global Development and Technology and Societies without Borders, and a book, Deflecting the Crisis: Keynesianism, Social Movements, and US Hegemony (2009). He serves as secretary/treasurer of the Section on Human Rights of the American Sociological Association, coeditor of the journal Societies without Borders, and vice president of public relations for Sociologists without Borders.

    About the Contributors

    Rachel Bryant is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University. She is currently the project director of the U.S. Children's Rights Index. Her dissertation focuses on children's participation in medical decision making.

    Rebecca Clausen is a professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Her interest in environmental sociology and political economy has informed her research on the social structural drivers of environmental change. Themes of human rights and environmental rights weave throughout her work as a teacher and an activist.

    Louis Edgar Esparza is a lecturer in human rights at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. His dissertation, Grassroots Human Rights Activism in Contemporary Colombia, is the winner of the 2010 Latin American Studies Association/Oxfam America Martin Diskin Dissertation Award. His work has attracted grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He publishes in the areas of contentious politics, human rights, and development.

    Bruce K. Friesen is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa in Florida. He received his PhD in sociology from the University of Calgary (Canada) in 1993, and is author of Designing and Conducting Your First Interview Project (Jossey-Bass, 2010). He teaches courses in global sociology and has led study-abroad courses in Geneva, Switzerland, and Florence, Italy. Dr. Friesen continues to agitate for respect for human rights. He is the recipient of several teaching excellence awards.

    San Juanita Edilia García is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University and an American Sociological Association Minority Fellowship Program Fellow. Her areas of specialization include Latino sociology, immigration, race and ethnic relations, sociology of mental health, and social psychology. She received a bachelor of arts degree, double-majoring in criminal justice and Spanish with a minor in sociology. She received her master's degree from Texas A&M University, where her thesis examined the relationship between nativism and depression among undocumented Mexican immigrant women.

    Brian Gran is on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and School of Law at Case Western Reserve University. His research focuses on how law is used to designate public-private boundaries in social life. Gran currently directs the Children's Rights Index project. He is completing a book on independent children's rights institutions.

    Tugrul Keskin is an assistant professor of international and Middle Eastern studies and Turkish studies at Portland State University. Previously, Dr. Keskin served as instructor of sociology and Africana studies at Virginia Tech University and as visiting assistant professor of sociology at James Madison and Radford universities. He received his PhD from Virginia Tech in sociology, with certificates in Africana studies, social and political thought, and international research and development. He is the editor of The Sociology of Islam: Secularism, Economy and Politics (Garnet/Ithaca Press, 2011). He also is a board member of Sociologists without Borders and a book review editor of Societies without Borders

    Shulamith Koenig is the recipient of the 2003 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights. For the last 20 years she has developed public policy on learning about human rights as a way of life across communities, reaching out to 100 communities and dialoguing with grassroots organizations in more than 50 nations. She is the founding president of PDHRE, the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, and deputy of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment. To develop viable models and an ongoing process of learning and acting, she is facilitating the development of an international institute for learning human rights as a way of life, and a national corps to pursue such learning throughout members' countries and in their communities.

    Cecilia Menjívar is the Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. In recent years she has examined the effects of immigration laws on different aspects of immigrants' lives, including family dynamics, educational aspirations, religious activities, and artistic expressions. Her publications include the books Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America (University of California Press, 2000); Through the Eyes of Women: Gender, Social Networks, Family and Structural Change in Latin America and theCaribbean (edited; De Sitter, 2003); When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S. and Technologies of Terror (coedited with Nestor Rodriguez; University of Texas Press, 2005); and Enduring Violence: Ladina Women's Lives in Guatemala (University of California Press, 2011) and numerous articles in academic journals.

    Rogelio Sáenz is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University. He is also a Fellow of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire and writes occasionally on demographic trends for the Population Reference Bureau. His research focuses on the areas of demography, immigration, sociology of Latinos, and inequality. Sáenz is a coeditor of Latinas/os in the United States: Changing the Face of América. His articles have also appeared in a variety of journals including Demography, Du Bois Review, International Migration Review, Journal of Marriage and Family, Race & Society, Social Science Quarterly, and Social Science Research.

    Laura Toussaint is a member of the academic core faculty at Lake Washington Technical College and a research affiliate for the “Globalization, Gender, and Development” project in the Department of Sociology at American University. She is the outreach coordinator for the global and transnational section-in-formation of the American Sociological Association and a member of the editorial collective of Societies without Borders. She has published articles for Sociologists for Women in Society and Bharatiya Samajik Chintan, the academic journal of the Indian Academy of Social Sciences. Her book, The Contemporary U.S. Peace Movement, was published by Routledge in 2009.

    Bryan S. Turner is the Presidential Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the director of the Committee on Religion. He was previously the Alona Evans Distinguished Visiting Professor at Wellesley College (2009–2010). He published Vulnerability and Human Rights (Penn State University Press, 2006) and Rights and Virtues (Bardwell Press, 2008). He is the founding editor of the journal Citizenship Studies. He edited the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies (2009) and the New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion (2010). Professor Turner was awarded a Doctor of Letters by Cambridge University in 2009.

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