‘Public Policy & Governance Beyond Borders’ was the guiding theme of the international conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), held in Brussels on 13-14 July 2017. Our sixth post in the series looks briefly at the universal human right to education — and then gives a very personal angle on the merits of interdisciplinary debate.
From their inception in the 1948 Universal Declaration, human rights have always been a hallmark of public policy beyond borders. The idea that states are not entirely sovereign in dealing with their citizens, but bound by universal, humanist norms necessitates a strong international cooperation.
The UN and other development agencies have incorporated human rights in their day-to-day work, and they are recognised as essential tools for equitable development in the Sustainable Development Goals (noted especially in the preamble and paragraphs 3, 8, 10, 19 and 20). Yet now, the rise of populism and affiliated anti-globalist sentiments present a challenge to this global cooperation.
The question then becomes whether human rights are public policy beyond borders only, or whether they are supported by the local population as well. To answer this, I tried to quantify the influence of the population and international organisations on the right to education as laid down in national law. I was honoured to be invited to present my preliminary results at the APPAM International Conference.
It was the first time that I had presented my research outside of the institute, and my first conference as a PhD student. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. Not only did I want concrete feedback on my theoretical framework, data, and methodology, but I was also hoping to expand my professional network.
I made all the necessary preparations: a quick visit to the barber, printed a stack of business cards, and collected my suit from the drycleaners (even though the dress code was business casual, you can never be too careful!). In high spirits, I arrived at the conference location in Brussels — only to find that I was the only participant studying law from a social science perspective.
Countless new angles
And it was fantastic. No, I did not get advice on what regressions I should run. No-one pointed me to high quality data sources. Nor did I encounter anyone who would challenge my legalistic assumptions. So what did I take away from the conference?
I learned the merits of looking beyond the borders of your own academic bubble. After working for so long on your own specialised research, it is easy to get lost in technical details. At APPAM, I met people from diverse backgrounds such as social protection and migration. Given that they were not aware of the intricacies of this type of research, questions were of a much more fundamental nature. I was engaged in a fascinating discussion on the role of social contracts, got questioned about the implicit teleology of human rights, and vehemently disagreed with an argument about the inherent limits to universalism.
Did any of this help me to run my regressions? No, of course not. But it did help me develop my thinking about the ontological and epistemological fundaments of my research. And it taught me that going beyond borders helps you to look at familiar images with new eyes.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Flickr / Bindaas Madhavi