University of Toronto Department of Political Science
Spotlight: Wendy Wong
Professor Wong examines the influence of NGOs on our perceptions of human rights.
By Samya Kullab
“When I read that book,” Assistant Professor Wendy Wong says, pointing to Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics by Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, “I thought, ‘Wow, this is it!”
She applauds the work for engaging seriously with the simple question, “what can non-state actors do?” Without this publication, she emphasized, no one would take her work seriously.
“No one had talked about NGOs having power in a serious way before.”
During her graduate years at the University of California, San Diego, Wong became fascinated with the role of non-governmental organizations and different transnational actors in politics. During her undergraduate years at the University of California, Berkeley, Wong expressed interest in American politics and race relations.
“Though I don’t look at race anymore, this time did inform my views in terms of thinking about what non-state actors can do in politics,” says Wong. “Because in International Relations we look at states, or the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations, I started thinking about what it is that makes these sorts of political movements. How do they get political concessions and start new discourses?”
Wong soon became attracted to questions relating to human rights after engaging with the work of Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen.
“I’m drawn to these questions because I care a lot about these arguments, about human dignity and what it means to be a human being; arguments about cosmopolitanism; and thinking about the world beyond oneself.”
In terms of forming a broader scheme for her work, Wong cites Michele Foucault, but is quick to clarify “I’m not a Foucauldian. Foucault is a scholar about power; he showed me that all ideas come from somewhere and that we should think about where they came from or the genealogical process.”
Perusing Wong’s publications since the completion of her doctorate in 2008, an affinity with the work of Amnesty International in particular becomes clear. Though Wong does not like to think of herself as an activist, she admits she is drawn to the organization because of its success in appealing to grassroots audiences.
Wong is also interested in other NGOs that have contributed to what is commonly thought of as human rights. In particular, Wong thinks about how certain organizations influence politics.
“I think they have a real effect. We have to look at them not as moral organizations but we have to ask what are they doing, how do they make decisions and how do they frame issues,” she says.
At the moment, Wong is working on a book how NGOs have managed to influence our perceptions of international human rights. She distinguishes between them in terms of who makes decisions and how these decisions are then implemented.Last modified on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by