Contesting Governance: The Global Challenges of Rule, Accountability, and Citizenship

How do citizens respond when they feel unprotected, abandoned or attacked by the state? How do people voice concerns and make claims in the streets, or in courts? How do people negotiate their everyday needs and livelihoods when private armed actors control their material and social spaces, and decide their fate? What kinds of rules and authority emerge in places where state governance is weak or has ceased to exist?

Within the platform Contesting Governance, researchers apply critical perspectives to unravel how power is constituted and how it operates across particular institutional and societal fields.

Interdisciplinary research platform
The Contesting Governance platform started out as a temporary research project and has now expanded to a multidisciplinary platform with researchers from all across Utrecht University. Its members seek to unpack the dimensions of power and relationships that facilitate or block change. By focusing on societies facing political instability and conflict across the globe, they investigate and evaluate governance structures and institutions that contest and confront the state as well as those that compete, collaborate or extend it. To illustrate this, you can find an outline with selected cases of contested governance here.

Building bridges
To address these governance issues, the research group combines the normative framework of law with the complexity that emerges from grounded empirical research and explores the tensions between them. Aiming to build bridges between international law, anthropology and conflict studies, the project finds newness and inspiration in interdisciplinary dialogue, collaboration, and teaching around concepts such as sovereignty, security, governance, violence, human rights, and legitimacy.

Contesting Governance brings researchers together from three faculties within Utrecht University: Law, Economics & Governance, Humanities, and Social Sciences. With a critical and interdisciplinary exploration of themes relating to institutions, conflict & security, and human rights, the Contesting Governance team connects two dynamic research networks of Utrecht University: the strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies and the Centre for Global Challenges. As a platform for research, dialogue, education and knowledge, they aim to grow and connect with other researchers across the university working on related themes.

I find it refreshing to see how other scholars from other disciplines more easily embrace the messiness of reality that lawyers often find inconvenient – and therefore prefer to ignore.

Katharine Fortin

Going beyond normative framings that picture what the rules should be and how they should be exercised, our group has the combined expertise to understand how de facto governance and de jure governance intersect, and how they strengthen and/or contest each other.

Martijn Oosterbaan

As a group, we aim to explore how certain concepts mean different things in different disciplines and think further about how we can benefit from each other, not only in our research, but also in our teaching.

Tessa Diphoorn