BCC.20.006 – Legal mobilization: analyzing law-based advocacy

Route: Between conflict and cooperation

Cluster question: 039 How can the law and other forms of regulation provide sufficient legal certainty while also responding to present-day opportunities and challenges in society?

Law promises certainty, but law is static; something needs to happen. Human rights in particular do not realise themselves; they are contested, and most especially, they must be mobilized.

As a practice, legal mobilization is aimed at advancing social justice, using law as a sword and shield. Legal mobilization is intended to function as a legitimate means to resolve conflicts, redress rule of law deficits and address other governance problems. Legal mobilization is not the same as lawfare, whereby companies and governments instrumentalize law in an illegitimate manner. While lawfare serves to victimize, attempt to bankrupt or in other ways harm social justice advocates, organizations and even government agencies, legal mobilization can serve as a form of resistance or counterpower.

But who can bring such claims in the first place? How can civic actors and well-meaning regulatory agencies work together, mobilizing law to ensure accountability for human rights, environmental and other violations, across different issues and political contexts? Are there common factors that determine the success or failure of legal mobilization to address different issues, such as: climate change, ethnic profiling, elder discrimination, gender-based violence and other social justice issues? How can legal mobilization make issues more visible? How can human rights defenders be protected from the backlash against legal mobilization?

As scholars, we critically analyze the strategic potential and challenges of legal mobilization through a generalizable, analytical lens of legal mobilization. This enables us to study different forms of legal / rights-based civic advocacy in comparative perspective. Legal mobilization compels us to adopt a grounded understanding and critical relationship between law and other fields and disciplines. Through the interdisciplinary field of socio-legal studies, we incorporate a critical approach to analyzing public policy and implementation and the consequences of corporate behavior.


access to justice, citizenship, civic-state interactions, lawfare, legal mobilization

Other organisations

Greenpeace, Leiden Law School, Public Interest Litigation Project of the Nederlands Juristen Comité Mensenrechten, Tilburg Law School, University of Amsterdam, Utrecht Law School, War Crimes Centre


Organisation International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)
Name Dr. Jeff Handmaker
E-mail handmaker@iss.nl
Website https://nias.knaw.nl/themegroup/legal-mobilization-analyzing-law-based-advocacy/