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Political scientist tracks human rights

flynnMichael Flynn grew up listening to his father and grandfather — both active and interested in community politics — debate and sometimes argue political ideology. And they shared a political party.

Flynn took a more fact-based, analytical approach, which he’s pursuing as a doctoral candidate in political science. “I like to step back from the heat of the fire,” he says, “and see what the evidence shows.”

What has that view shown him? Recently, it was an examination of efforts to shame nations that have a spotty record on human rights and whether multinational corporations distance themselves from those countries. He and colleagues found foreign corporate investment had a positive relationship with greater respect for human rights. Likewise, publicly shaming those countries led to reduced foreign investment.

“It’s a hopeful finding,” Flynn says, one that points straight at his research interest: political networks, the interaction of domestic and international politics and their intersection with human rights and conflict. The study, published in International Studies Quarterly, joins an analysis of domestic politics and their influence on military spending published in Foreign Policy Analysis.

“U.S. foreign policy, especially since the Cold War, touches on so many issues,” Flynn says. And domestic and even individual political needs drive foreign policy, despite a separation promoted in American politics since George Washington was president.

Add to that the rise of the military-industrial complex in the 1950s, increased human rights awareness following World War II and U.S. involvement in world economic development, and quickly you see that foreign relations becomes domestic politics and vice versa.

“People, whether they be representatives or bureaucrats, have some kind of interest they’re seeking to advance,” Flynn says.

Flynn’s work corrects how people view foreign relations, says Benjamin Fordham, Flynn’s doctoral committee chairman. “Most people tend to focus on international conditions” as driving foreign relations, says Fordham, a professor of political science. “But you can’t understand the whole situation until you understand the internal situation.”

That’s a worldwide approach, but Flynn is supporting it with research into U.S. foreign policy operatives since World War II. Even now, Flynn admits to a certain bemusement at teaching a classroom of students who have no experience of the Cold War, who instead grew up with the threat of terrorism in their backyards. They’re often unaware of how the same institutions — banking interests, individual bureaucrats, international economic realities — affect or even create the world they live in.

“I love that interconnectedness,” he says.

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