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Quantifying Global Challenges: Human Rights Indicators




Admission Requirements

A passing grade in Quantitative Research Methods. Students with a deep educational background in human rights may contact instructor to wave this requirement


Quantification and measurement lay at the foundation of science and, increasingly, policy discourse. The quantification of critical phenomena such as global temperatures, CO2 content of the atmosphere, the civility of discourse in and content of news, the health of populations, the quality of democracy, degrees of inequality, and the quality of civil rights play a critical role in informing policy discussions and decision and often shapes the manner in which we conceive of the world beyond our senses.

For instance, we know Finland is a country with an excellent educational system due to results for quantitative measures of educational performance. However, what can we and what can we not conclude about Finland’s educational system on the basis of this measure? Or, in the case of this course – what can we say and what can we not say about a country’s ‘human rights record’ on the basis of different measures.

To develop a critical understanding of quantification this course covers basic issues in the philosophy of science and measurement, mainstream measurement theory in the sciences, applications to human rights measures currently used, and with a critical eye to how one such measure is utilized in well-known scholarship.

Course Objectives

  • Develop an understanding of the proper application of the scientific measurement to (this year) human rights around the world;

  • Improve teamwork and oral presentation skills; and

  • Develop ability to write and communicate scientifically informed papers including proper use of quantitative measures, graphs and charts to demonstrate relationships between concepts of interest.

  • Develop a critical understanding of the limits and promise of quantification,

  • Be able to identify cases of measures used appropriately and inappropriately.

  • Learn how to quantitative evaluate the quality of quantitative measures.

Mode of Instruction

This course will be primarily seminar-based, with short lectures (30 -45 minutes long on average) during the early weeks, with student preparation for classroom discussion forming a core component of the class. However, certain concepts may be demonstrated via classroom experiment.


Preparedness for readings, and participation in discussion is essential for the success of this seminar-style course. Students will throughout the block actively engage course content through writing and discussion. A number of assignments pursuant to drive home key lessons of the class sessions will lead into a group project, where each group will develop a written report, a poster, and oral presentation about a prominent human rights indicator. Students will also prepare a small final research note about an independent research question subject to instructor approval.

Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Four graded exercises
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7 (Due by class meeting that reviewed readings will be discussed)

Assessment: Group Project Presentations & Report (3000-4000 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 7 (in class)

Assessment: Individual Research Project (2000-3000 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday at 23:59)


Most readings will come from journal articles, and excerpts, however the following two required readings will form a dense part of the reading load.

Required: Abouharb, M. Rodwan and David Cingranelli. 2007. Human Rights and Structural Adjustment. Cambridge University Press.

Required: Landman, Todd. 2005 Studying Human Rights London: Routledge

Recommended: Donnelly, Jack. 2002. Universal Human Rights in Theory & Practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press

Recommended: King, Gary, Robert Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry. Princeton University Press.

Contact Information

Dr. Brandon C. Zicha at b.c.zicha@luc.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to measurement and quantification
Week 2: Foundations of Measurement Theory
Week 3: Collecting and Evaluating Measurements
Week 4: Human Rights – Concepts
Week 5: Human Rights – Measures and Applications
Week 6: Applications cont’d & Workshop
Week 7: Presentations

Preparation for first session

Students will receive reading for the first meeting via blackboard after enrolling. Please e-mail the instructor If you have not heard from the instructor as the first session approaches so that he may personally send them to you.