Fifty years ago, the world had very few human rights laws and very little information on human rights violations. Today, the situation could not be more different. The world is awash in laws and indicators of legal violations, and two perspectives have developed to explain their relationship. The factualist approach measures whatever information is available, however imperfectly, and assumes that the resulting indicators are valid representations of the theoretical concepts of interest. The constructivist approach reminds us that these processes are not independent and that a science of law and human rights is fallible. Though the conclusions from these perspectives diverge radically, they agree on a central notion: that international human rights law has contributed very little to social progress. We disagree and offer an alternative, constitutive approach that both accepts the critique of indicators and offers a way forward that encourages scholars to treat measurement itself as an object of theorizing and inquiry.


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