Department of Political Science


Professor Lisa Vanhala

Professor of Political Science
Room: 3.03, 31 Tavistock Sq.
Tel: 020 7679 4984 (x24984)
Email: l.vanhala@ucl.ac.uk

Lisa is a Full Professor in Political Science. 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 held positions at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in Oxford and at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE. She has held visiting professorships at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris; the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley and the European University Institute in Florence. She has held major grants, including a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellowship and a European Research Council Starting Grant. Please note: Professor Vanhala is on research leave from 2018 to 2023


Professor Vanhala is interested in the politics of climate change and the socio-legal study of human rights and equality issues. Her current, ERC-funded project, the Politics and Governance of Climate Change Loss and Damage (CCLAD), explores attempts to govern the impacts of climate change we will not be able to adapt to at the global and national level. Relying on a political ethnographic approach the project explores the role of norms, identities and the micro-level, every day dynamics of global environmental governance.  

Another facet of her work looks at the ways in which civil society organisations engage with the law to shape policy and social change. 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. Since then she has focused on the use of law by organisations interested in environmental issues and climate change as well as those concerned with human rights and equality.

Professor Vanhala also works as a consultant and learning partner to a number of civil society organisations and philanthropic foundations. This has included work with, for example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Public Law Project, Access Social Care, Independent Age, Impact Law for Social Justice, the Baring Foundation, The Lankelly Chase Foundation, The Legal Education Foundation and BBC Children in Need. She also sits as a co-opted member on the Sustainable Future Committee of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.    



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

Journal special issue

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

Peer-reviewed articles

  • Making Sense of the Politics in the Climate Change Loss & Damage Debate. Global Environmental Change 64, 2020. With Elisa Calliari and Olivia Serdeczny.  
  • Co-producing the Endangered Polar Bear: Science, Climate Change and Legal Mobilization. Law & Policy 42(2), 2020, pp. 105-124.
  • Climate Change Litigation: A Review of Research on Courts and Litigants in Climate Governance. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 10(3), 2019, e580. With Joana Setzer. 
  • Is Legal Mobilization for the Birds? Legal Opportunity Structures and Environmental Nongovernmental Organisations in the United Kingdom, France, Finland and Italy. Comparative Political Studies. 51(3), 2018, pp. 380-412.
  • Shaping the Structure of Legal Opportunities: Environmental NGOs Bringing International Environmental Procedural Rights Back Home. Law & Policy. 40(1), 2018, pp. 110-127.
  • ‘Let Us Learn’: Legal Mobilization for the Rights of Young Migrants to Access Student Loans in the UK. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 10(3), 2018, pp. 439–460. With Shauneen Lambe and Rachel Knowles.
  • Mobilizing European Law. Journal of European Public Policy, 25(9), 2018, pp. 1376-1389. With Lisa Conant, Andreas Hoffman and Dagmar Soennecken. 
  • Process Tracing in the Study of Environmental Politics. Global Environmental Politics. 17(4), 2017, pp. 88-105.
  • Framing Climate Change Loss and Damage in the UNFCCC Negotiations. Global Environmental Politics 16(4), 2016, pp. 111-129. With Cecilie Hestbaek.
  • Legal Mobilization under Neo-corporatist Governance: Environmental NGOs before the Conseil d'Etat in France (1975-2010). Journal of Law and Courts 4(1), 2016, pp. 103-130.
  • The Diffusion of Disability Rights in Europe. Human Rights Quarterly 37(4), 2015, pp. 831-853.
  • The Comparative Politics of Courts and Climate Change. Environmental Politics 22(3), 2013, pp. 447-474.
  • Climate Change Litigation: Symposium Introduction. Law & Policy 35(3), 2013, pp. 141-149.
  • Civil Society Organisations and the Aarhus Convention in Court: Judicialization from Below in Scotland? Representation 49(3), 2013. Special Issue: Role of Courts in a Democracy, pp. 309-320
  • Legal Opportunity Structures and the Paradox of Legal Mobilization by the Environmental Movement in the UK. Law & 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. Regional and Federal Studies 20(1), 2010, pp. 1-18. With R. Daniel Kelemen.
  • 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. 

Lisa is currently on research leave (2018-2023). She is available to take on a limited number of PhD students who are interested in the law and politics of climate change loss and damage or in studies of legal mobilization.