Brian K. Gran, PhD

Professor of Law
School of Law
Department of Sociology
College of Arts and Sciences
Faculty Associate
Center for Policy Studies

My research, teaching, and service concentrate on how we use rights as means by which to improve well-being. Rights are viewed as tools useful to enhancing welfare, reducing marginalization, and advancing equality. My research program takes an international perspective to investigate what institutions and structures facilitate, and obstruct, agency when it comes to using rights to improve outcomes, reduce disparities, and advance social policies. Given the widespread importance of rights, as well as their universal and inalienable qualities, my work matters to a range of stakeholders, from non-governmental organizations to quasi- and governmental institutions. Much of my work is interdisciplinary, drawing on sociology, law, and public policy research. A key component of my research is collaborating with students.

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Teaching Information

Teaching Interests

Teaching and mentoring are among the most gratifying aspects of my academic career. Hands-on experiences are key to courses I teach on methods. Over fifteen years, I have taught “Research Methods,” an upper-level, required undergraduate course that presents an overview of key strategies social scientists employ to undertake research. To gain hands-on experiences, students undertake class projects, which have ranged from fear of crime on campus to factors shaping opinions of human rights. The students and I explore a range of approaches to empirical social research. My objective is to improve research skills through practice. Students in my course thus conduct interviews, perform participant observations, undertake photo elicitations, and prepare and administer a survey, then analyze survey data. A second course is “Comparative-Historical Social Research,” through which students learn about and work with comparative-historical methodological approaches to social science research. After turning to “classic” texts in comparative-historical research, the students and I consider historical research, then turn to comparisons across cases, for which we concentrate on configurational comparative methods. This course focuses on fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis and its cousins.

As a Fulbright Scholar, I taught “Children’s Rights and Social Policy,” a course that tackles contemporary issues around children’s rights. I have taught a course on “Human Rights.” Students and I considered types of rights, turning to prominent typologies of rights, then undertook historical analyses of treaties, contrasting similarities and differences in how rights are articulated, what rights are provided, what standards are imposed, and what conditions are placed on rights. We then asked who has employed human rights to produce social change and what impediments they have encountered in pursuing this change.

The course I teach that takes rights as its focus is “Law and Society.” This course asks how do rights “fit” into the U.S. legal system and society. A centerpiece of the course is a socio-legal analysis of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s strategy in using Plessy to dismantle legal segregation. Students and I then turn to social movements that have borrowed from the Civil Rights movement as a strategy to challenge other inequalities, such as the Pay Equity movement.  A second course I have taught is “Law and the Public-Private Dichotomy for Social Policy.” With a basis in scholarship on the sociology of law, this course considers impacts of “law” on public-private boundaries and how “law” designates which actors and institutions belong to public and private sectors.

Placing a course in a bigger picture is a key feature of all courses I teach, including “Health Policy.” The focus of this course is U.S. health policy, but we place the U.S. system in comparative-historical perspective while taking a broader perspective of how “upstream” factors shape our health and health-care system.

Research Information

Research Interests

Human Rights and Societal Resilience?

This study seeks to assess how human rights systems performance shapes societal resilience. It seeks to answer two questions: (1) Can a strong commitment to human rights mitigate unrest, instability, and conflict? (2) Can government corruption function as a weak link to human rights systems, leading to vulnerabilities in societal resilience and susceptibility to terrorism and other factors that weaken societal resilience and security? This study expects to show that some aspects of human rights systems are more important to societal resilience, as well as that weak links in human rights systems open doors to forces that undermine resilience. This study will undertake pooled, cross-sectional analyses and fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analyses (fsQCA) of 160 countries to identify multiple causal configurations of human rights systems and other factors to explain societal resilience. FsQCA will be employed to identify minimum thresholds of human rights performance necessary to societal resilience, as well as counterfactual analyses of logically possible but empirically non-existent causal configurations. This study will closely compare four countries that represent types of human rights systems, societal resilience, public corruption, and terrorism.

By examining the impacts of human rights systems and other factors on societal resilience, this study will provide insights, frameworks, and data to support scientific efforts to anticipate more accurately instability and conflict. Insights will be gained into social dynamics across the world as well as in regions of interest. This study will examine impacts of human rights systems and other factors on societal resilience and will inform strategic thinking about resource allocation across defense efforts as well as policies on international relations and engagement strategies. The study will examine components of corruption as well as degrees of corruption as factors that intervene into relationships between human rights and societal resilience.

Rights and Well-being

I continue to contribute to sociology of the welfare state and social policy through studies of the public-private dichotomy. In March, I was invited to a European Union Cooperation in Science and Technology meeting in Barcelona to lecture on how public and private components of health insurance programs can bolster and hinder individuals’ attempts to extend their working lives. I am preparing a journal manuscript on the findings I presented in this lecture. I also ask, can governments use rights to change how parents raise families?  Feldman, a former student, and I apply a typology we have developed to forty-four countries to show that few public paternity-leave policies are organized to promote equity in families (Feldman and Gran, International Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare). Feldman and I are investigating whether equity in parental leave policies leads to equity in paid labor markets and improved health outcomes. Anne Bryden, a doctoral student, Kim Anderson, other scholars, and I are undertaking a study of experiences people with spinal cord injuries encounter as they pursue care and seek to implement their rights. Elizabeth Nalepa, a doctoral student, and I are completing a fsQCA study of differences in abortion rights; this project investigates whether rights are useful in private domains. Cory Cronin, an Ohio University professor and former student, and I are working on whether and how transportation matters to using health insurance in order to receive medical care services.

International Survey of Human Rights

Within sociology there is a significant need to ascertain individuals’ beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and experiences with human rights from a comparative perspective. A consensus has arisen that such empirical research on how human rights principles and practices reflect and affect different societies will be useful not only to social scientists specializing in human rights, but also to social scientists who study law, culture, environment, political economy, development, social movements, social problems, and inequalities of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin, among other areas. I am co-directing a study that is developing the first truly International Survey of Human Rights (ISHR). The ISHR asks questions about universal human rights norms and laws applicable across social and cultural contexts to investigate how opinions of, beliefs about, attitudes toward, and experiences with human rights vary and why. The ISHR will provide social scientists with the raw material – data – they need to better understand human rights both within and across societies. With these data, we will learn about human rights from an individual perspective in multiple contexts. The ISHR will be repeated every five years. As countries are added to the ISHR database, previous countries will continue to be studied.


Doctor of Philosophy
Northwestern University
Juris Doctor
Indiana University Bloomington
Bachelor of Arts
DePauw University

Additional Information


I am honored to serve as a member of the 2019 Program Committee of the American Sociological Association, as well as Chair-Elect of the ASA Human Rights Section. I am a member of the Council of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. For the Coalition, I chair a project that is developing a database of indicators of the right to science. I enjoy serving on review panels for the Fulbright Commission, the Boren Fellowship program, and the National Science Foundation.