Q&A with Kiyoteru Tsutsui

Co-Winner of the 2019 Political Sociology Book Award Rights Makes Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan (Oxford University Press, 2018)
Rights Make Might
How did you start working on the book and how did the project evolve over time? The book project started as a follow-up to a series of articles that I’d worked on since my dissertation, which examined how ideas and institutions around universal human rights emerged and evolved since around the 1940s. These articles featured cross-national quantitative analyses that identified some interesting global-local dynamics in human rights politics: many states make discursive commitments to human rights without actually changing their practices, and only when civil society actors leverage those commitments do actual practices improve. Other researchers also confirmed this pattern, and I had some anecdotal evidence to underscore the argument, but I wanted to have a deeper understanding about how these processes unfold. So I set out to do a comparative case study, and the three cases in Japan offered an excellent setting for this process-tracing study. One of the core arguments in my research up to that point was that once global human rights enter national politics, ideas and institutions around human rights galvanize local populations and lead them to greater activism and eventually greater success. To demonstrate this process, it was advantageous to have multiple groups with different political and historical backgrounds in the same country, so that country-level characteristics are controlled for and the impact of global human rights can be examined more precisely. The three groups in Japan were perfect for this purpose. Ainu, an inactive indigenous people, Koreans, an active but unsuccessful non-citizen group, and Burakumin, a former ‘outcaste’ group that had been politically active and already seen some successes, were at different stages of political mobilization but they all expanded their activism since the 1970s, when global human rights entered Japanese politics in earnest. So I set out to do a number of interviews, collect archival data, and put together a narrative that weaves these data into a book on how these three groups have been influenced by human rights ideas, utilized international human rights instruments, and also contributed to reinforcement and expansion of global human rights norms. As I examined empirical materials in greater detail, I came to a realization that one of the most consequential impacts of global human rights is its capacity to empower subjugated populations. I capture this in a concept, transformation of movement actorhood. For any underprivileged groups to start mobilization for more rights, it is critical that they understand that they deserve those rights. This realization can propel them to collective political action, and at that point, international human rights institutions can provide instrumental support, offering forums to criticize the government and to form alliances with other groups that are similarly disadvantaged. Done effectively, the growing activism can lead to improvement in their rights situations and can also result in a redirection of their movement in a more global and altruistic direction.

Trade Battles: Activism and the Politicization of International Trade Policy

Kay, Tamara and R.L. Evans. 2019. Trade Battles: Activism and the Politicization of International Trade Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Trade BattlesTrade was once an esoteric economic issue with little domestic policy resonance. Activists did not prioritize it, and grassroots political mobilization seemed unlikely to free trade advocates. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s was therefore expected to be a fait accompli. Yet, as Trade Battles shows, activists pushed back: they increased the public consciousness on trade, mobilized new constituencies against it, and demanded that the rules of the global economy protect the collective rights and common good of citizens. Activists also forged a sustained challenge to U.S. trade policies after NAFTA, setting the stage for future trade battles.

Using data from extensive archival materials and over 215 interviews with Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. trade negotiators; labor and environmental activists; and government officials, Tamara Kay and R.L. Evans assess how activists politicized trade policy by leveraging broad divisions across state and non-state arenas. Further, they demonstrate how activists were not only able to politicize trade policy, but also to pressure negotiators to include labor and environmental protections in NAFTA’s side agreements. A timely contribution, Trade Battles seeks to understand the role of civil society in shaping state policy. Order online at www.global.oup.com with promotion code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%

The Politics of Empowerment: Disability Rights and the Cycle of American Policy Reform

Pettinicchio, David. 2019. The Politics of Empowerment: Disability Rights and the Cycle of American Policy Reform. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Politics of Empowerment

Politics of Empowerment

Despite the progress of decades-old disability rights policy, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, threats continue to undermine the wellbeing of this population. The U.S. is, thus, a policy innovator and laggard in this regard. In Politics of Empowerment, David Pettinicchio offers a historically grounded analysis of the singular case of U.S. disability policy, countering long-held views of progress that privilege public demand as its primary driver. By the 1970s, a group of legislators and bureaucrats came to act as “political entrepreneurs.” Motivated by personal and professional commitments, they were seen as experts leading a movement within the government. But as they increasingly faced obstacles to their legislative intentions, nascent disability advocacy and protest groups took the cause to the American people forming the basis of the contemporary disability rights movement. Drawing on extensive archival material, Pettinicchio redefines the relationship between grassroots advocacy and institutional politics, revealing a cycle of progress and backlash embedded in the American political system.