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Cities and plural understandings of human rights: agents, actors, arenas



This introduction sets out key aspects of the relationship between human rights and legal pluralism in cities and towns. Over the years, such localities have come to engage with human rights in many ways that contribute to the pluralization of understandings of human rights. For one, cities and towns are agents, or norm entrepreneurs rather than the passive receivers of human rights as international law and politics. In addition, local governments are actors, bringing into question to what extent they could become subjects rather than mere objects of international law, with their own international competences and obligations, making and enforcing law. Thirdly, localities serve as arenas, far from homogenous entities but rather spaces which bring different local actors and positions together, in which plural understandings of human rights clash and are produced, questioned, contested, and re-negotiated. These forms of urban engagement bring about a rich pluralization of human rights, ranging from the actors involved in its contestation, to the specific rights prioritized by localities; from the ways in which human rights debates can play out in certain spaces, to how human rights norms are transported between the global and the local becoming vernacularized. In setting out this interrelationship between urban activity, human rights and legal pluralism, this introduction also serves as an outline of how the different perspectives in the articles in this Special Issue contribute to a better understanding of the role of local governments in putting forward plural understandings of human rights.


  • Human rights
  • Integration
  • Refuge