Contested Rights: Minorities and Justice

Convenors: Paola Bonizzoni (University of Milano) & Alberta Giorgi (University of

A growing body of literature focuses on the concept of Eurolegalism and, more broadly, judicialization of politics to highlight the increasing relevance of the courts and the ‘language of rights’ for dealing with politically controversial issues.

Indeed, the increasing role of the judicial power in politics has been connected to the difficulties in accessing the political venue, to the growing dissatisfaction with the principles and institutions of representative democracy and to the demands for transparency and accountability. According to some scholars, thus, the expansion of the judicial field may be interpreted as a form of democratization, to the extent that it provides windows of opportunity for otherwise unheard voices, by increasing groups’ and individuals’ opportunities to bring rights claims, and to intervene and participate to the collective regulation of societies.

On the other hand, ‘turning to law’ and mobilizing the judiciary may be costly (requiring different forms of cultural, economic or relational capital) and even risky, unintentionally jeopardizing public processes of issues’ legitimation. Moreover, groups may have other, relevant, reasons to restrain from taking legal action (such as cultural and identity-related preferences and considerations).

In this sense, cultural understandings of the law, attitudes toward the judiciary and broader processes of social inequality can be understood as relevant factors to explain to what extent minorities decide (not) to “turn to the law” either individually or collectively, to challenge discrimination, as well as to claim and expand their rights.

In this session, we solicit ethnographic and qualitative studies (including comparative ones) that examine, from different angles, methods and theoretical perspectives, the judicialization of minority groups issues – particularly in the fields of religion, immigration, and LGBT, women’s and Roma rights.

We especially welcome studies tackling:

  1. Strategic litigation, either through national and supranational/international courts (to overcome national veto-players through processes of venue-shopping). How do minority groups conceive of and mobilize the law?
  2. Rights claim via lobbying activities and public campaigning centred on issues of legal reform and/or the mobilization of the ‘language of rights’ to frame minority issues.
  3. The role played by gatekeepers (legal and para-legal experts) in providing individuals and groups critical resources to navigate the law and concretely mediate access to rights.


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