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Dr Lisa Vanhala

Senior Lecturer in Human Rights

Dr Lisa Vanhala
  • Name: Dr Lisa Vanhala
  • Position: Senior Lecturer in Human Rights
  • Room: 3.02, 29/30 Tavistock Sq.
  • Telephone: 020 7679 4984
  • Email:


Lisa is a Senior Lecturer in Political Science and Director of the MA in Human Rights. She holds a DPhil and MPhil in Politics from University of Oxford. She spent her undergraduate years at McGill University and Sciences Po Paris. Prior to joining UCL Lisa was a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in Oxford. She has also worked at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE and as a visiting assistant professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. In 2013 she was awarded a three-year Future Research Leaders grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. 


Lisa's research looks at the relationship between NGOs, law and social change. She is currently working on two projects. One attempts to solve the puzzle of why some environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have chosen to be active participants before the courts while others have completely eschewed the use of legal strategies in pursuit of their policy goals. Employing data gathered from organizational records and elite interviews in green NGOs across European countries, the project explores how organizations invoke and engage with law in a multitude of ways. The second project looks at the role courts play in debates about climate change. She is seeking to understand why we see a judicialization of climate change politics in some countries and some policy fields but not in others.

Lisa's first monograph, Making Rights a Reality? Disability Rights Activists and Legal Mobilization was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. The book won the Socio-legal Studies Association and Hart Early Career Prize 2012 and the Best Book in Comparative Politics, Canadian Political Science Association 2012. The monograph follows activists and lawyers in the United Kingdom and Canada as they construct and negotiate the political identity associated with disability. It reveals that the collective identities constructed by activists shape, and in turn are shaped by, their decisions to enter the courtroom.

Lisa has also worked as a consultant to NGOs and governments on disability rights and the use of the law in campaigning. 

Core research and teaching interests

  • Human rights
  • Comparative politics
  • Environmental politics
  • Law and courts
  • New social movements
  • Socio-legal theory and methods
  • Qualitative methods

Select publications


  • Making Disability Rights a Reality? Disability Rights Activists and Legal Mobilization. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Journal special issues

  • Co-editor (with Professor Chris Hilson), Symposium on Climate Change Litigation. Law & Policy 35(3) 2013.

Peer-reviewed articles

  • Civil Society Organisations and the Aarhus Convention in Court: Judicialization from Below in Scotland? Representation, Special Issue: Role of Courts in a Democracy. Forthcoming 2013.
  • The Comparative Politics of Courts and Climate Change. Environmental Politics 22(3), 2013, pp. 447-474.
  • Legal Opportunity Structures and the Paradox of Legal Mobilization by the Environmental Movement in the UK. Law and Society Review 46(3), 2012, pp. 523-556.
  • Social Movements Lashing Back: Law, Social Change and Socio-legal Backlash in Canada. Studies in Law, Politics and Society 54, 2011, pp. 113-140.
  • The Shift to the Rights Model of Disability in the EU and Canada. With R. Daniel Kelemen, Regional and Federal Studies 20(1), 2010, pp. 1-18.
  • Twenty-five Years of Disability Equality? Interpreting Disability Rights in the Supreme Court of Canada. Common Law World Review 39(1), 2010, pp. 27-47.
  • Disability Activists in the Supreme Court of Canada: Legal Mobilization and Accommodating Social Movements. Canadian Journal of Political Science 42(4), 2009, pp. 981-1002.
  • Anti-discrimination Policy Actors and their use of Litigation Strategies: the Influence of Identity Politics. Journal of European Public Policy 16(5), 2009, pp. 738-754.
  • Fighting Discrimination through Litigation in the UK: The Social Model of Disability and the EU Anti-discrimination Directive. Disability and Society 21(5), 2006, pp. 551-565.

Book chapters

  • Meaning Frames, Opportunity Structures and Rights in the Canadian Disability Rights Movement in Miriam Smith (ed), Group Politics and Social Movements (2nd edition). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Forthcoming 2014
  • Legal Mobilization. In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Political Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Circumventing the State? Stateless Nations, National Minorities and the EU Constitution” with David Landau in Joseph Drew (ed.), Redefining Europe. Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2005. Pp. 149-164.

Contact us

School of Public Policy,
The Rubin Building,
29/31 Tavistock Square,
London, WC1H 9QU.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4999,
Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 4978,

Postgraduate enquiries

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4982/4950

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Page last modified on 29 apr 15 17:44

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