NYU Anthropologist to Examine How Human Rights Rankings Are Created Under NSF Grant


New York University Anthropology Professor Sally Engle Merry will examine how rankings of human rights are created under a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The resulting research is designed to help the public as well as international decision-makers develop a fuller understanding of the kinds of knowledge these rankings provide.

Sally Engle Merry
Sally Engle Merry

New York University Anthropology Professor Sally Engle Merry will examine how rankings of human rights are created under a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The resulting research is designed to help the public as well as international decision-makers develop a fuller understanding of the kinds of knowledge these rankings provide.

“Indicators are increasingly important for bringing about human rights reforms,” Merry explained. “But it is critical to understand how these indicators are constructed and what significance they have across countries.”

Around the globe, countries and international organizations have created indicators to measure compliance with human rights. But many human rights are hard to measure and quantify, making it difficult to obtain an objective assessment of human rights compliance across nations.

Under the NSF grant, Merry and her research team to determine how such measures are created, by whom, and how they come to shape the way we understand the world and govern decisions.

“The essence of a human rights indicator is that it is simple and easy to understand,” Merry explained. “Like money, it appears to allow easy comparison among groups and countries by converting values into numbers. Indicators use numerical measures to make comparisons across 500

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