This week’s interview is with Randall Hicks, Scholar-in-Residence at the Law Library of Congress and International Relations Officer in the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT) at the United States Department of Labor. As Scholar-in-Residence, Randall is conducting research on the cultural foundations of law and their impact on rule of law issues in Argentina.
Describe your background.
I grew up in Saratoga Springs, NY, with roots in the Finger Lakes region and the Adirondack Mountains. It is a wonderful place to be from, and I continue to have close ties to the area. My family was instrumental in cultivating my interest in the wider world, and I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania, where I really began to explore it.
What is your academic and professional history?
Before coming to Washington D.C., I was a cultural anthropologist, and I am still one at heart. I finished my Ph.D. a few years ago at the University of Michigan, where my research focused on the corruption of a Bolivian human rights and economic development institution in Argentina. Through my field work, I was able to show how the cultural and legal dimensions of this corruption shaped one another with consequences for vulnerable populations, the Argentine state, and our understanding of rule of law issues.
My work on Bolivian migrant labor issues in Argentina prepared me for my current position in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), where I work on research and policy initiatives trained on the intersection of human rights in labor and global political economy. I’ve been an International Relations Officer in ILAB’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking for the last few years.
How would you describe your job to other people?
In ILAB, I research and report on international child and forced labor issues, and work with foreign governments and the private sector to address them, all according to international legal standards. We have such a wonderful mission and get to travel to our regions of expertise to conduct our work, most often hosted by State Department colleagues at U.S. Embassies. Since I cover the Latin American region, I’ve had the chance to conduct official visits to Bolivia and Nicaragua for research and engagement.
Why did you want to do research at the Law Library of Congress?
In my anthropological research on the culture of corruption, I remain fascinated by the extent to which the law itself is also—and undeniably—a cultural creation, and how this must be accounted for in studies of rule of law issues. The Law Library of Congress has such incredible resources, which include the world’s largest foreign law collection. As a Scholar-in-Residence, I’ve been drawing on the Library’s Argentine collection to see how Argentina’s legal framework for regulating entities of the public good is imbued with a tradition of virtue that stems from Aquinas. I’m looking at how its attempted reconciliation with the liberal tradition creates spaces for corruption and challenges for regulation when the law is operationalized.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I have wonderful and passionate colleagues, and we share a lot. What they might not know is that I had my beginnings in archaeology, and once excavated Neanderthal sites in France and hunter-gatherer sites in Patagonia. They wouldn’t be surprised to learn of my affinity for the Paleolithic given my challenges in mastering digital age technologies.