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Department of Sociology


We are delighted to announce that Senior Lecturer Dr Ella McPherson, along with colleagues from The Whistle, Isabel Guenette Thornton (PhD student in Sociology) and Dr Matt Mahmoudi, received the International Studies Association’s 2021 Human Rights Best Paper Award. This was for their co-authored piece, ‘Open Source Investigations and the Technology-Driven Knowledge Controversy in Human Rights Fact-Finding’.

The award adjudication committee commented in their official citation: ‘McPherson, Guenette Thornton, and Mahmoudi analyze the implications of new information technologies, which have vastly expanded the capacity of individuals to identify, monitor, and publicize human rights violations. They argue that this democratization of human rights fact finding generates “knowledge controversy” whereby “new actors bring with them not only new data and new methods, but also new norms about what human rights knowledge should be.” Their paper offers a comprehensive exploration of the theoretical, epistemological, and practical dilemmas posed by these developments, contributing fresh questions and insights to the study and practice of international human rights.’

This paper has now been published as a chapter in Oxford University Press’ Digital Witness, co-edited by Sam Dubberley, Alexa Koenig and Daragh Murray and the first book on open source investigations in human rights fact-finding. Ella, Isabel and Matt accepted their best paper award via Zoom at the Human Rights Section meeting during the 2021 ISA Annual Convention. About the award, Ella said, ‘It is such an honour to receive this award from the wonderful ISA human rights community. My profound thanks go to my co-authors and the whole Whistle team, our terrific editors and the broader human rights and technology network of scholars and practitioners.’

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