Department of Political Science


Dr Lisa Vanhala

Lisa Vanhala

Dr Lisa Vanhala

Associate Professor in Human Rights

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Lisa is an Associate 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 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. She has also regularly been a visiting assistant professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris and spent autumn 2015 at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2013 she was awarded a three-year Future Research Leaders grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. Please note: Lisa is on research leave for part of the 2016-2017 academic year.

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Lisa's research looks at the relationship between NGOs, law and social change. She is currently working on three projects. One attempts to solve the puzzle of why some environmental 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. 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 climate-related policy fields but not in others. The third project explores the international politics of climate change loss and damage including ethnographic research on the UN committee that addresses this issue.

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.

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

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Core research and teaching interests

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

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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.

Selected Publications

  • Is Legal Mobilization for the Birds? Legal Opportunity Structures and Environmental Nongovernmental Organisations in the United Kingdom, France, Finland and Italy. Comparative Political Studies. Forthcoming.
  • Process Tracing in the Study of Environmental Politics. Global Environmental Politics. Forthcoming.
  • Mobilizing European Law. Journal of European Public Policy. With Lisa Conant, Andreas Hofmann and Dagmar Soennecken. Forthcoming.
  • Shaping the Structure of Legal Opportunities: Environmental NGOs Bringing International Environmental Procedural Rights Back Home. Law & Policy. Forthcoming.
  • 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. With Chris Hilson. Law & Policy 35(3), 2013, pp. 141-149. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

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