'Researching legal mobilisation and lawfare', by Jeff Handmaker

ISS Working Paper No. 641


Law-based, civic-led advocacy has long been an important means for addressing rule of law deficits and problems of development and governance more generally. Authoritarian regimes, official and/or corporate foreign-based corruption and the structural limitations of formal rule of law mechanisms to deliver impartial justice have forced legal advocates to think creatively. This has resulted in some interesting examples of civic-led, law-based advocacy through both informal and formal structures, aimed at pursuing social justice. However, it is important to clearly distinguish legal mobilisation from illegitimate forms of legal instrumentalism, such as lawfare.
In this Working Paper, I set out some of my current research ideas in this area and in particular explain my approach to researching legal mobilisation, which I regard as a practice as well as a socio-legal concept and approach, with a particular emphasis on the use of law as a form of political legitimacy.

legal mobilisation, lawfare

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Jeff Handmaker teaches law, human rights, development and social justice and conducts research on legal mobilization at the International Institute of Social Studies. In 2017 he was a visiting research fellow in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. He has a long-time association with South Africa and Southern Africa and is a senior research fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He is also an Editor of the South African Journal on Human Rights. As a socio-legal researcher, he studies the social and political dimensions of mobilizing law in relation to a variety of contexts and themes. He holds various ancillary positions, including as a project board member of the Public Interest Litigation Project and regularly gives public lectures in the Netherlands, Europe and elsewhere in the world.