Human rights practice and the city: A case study of York (UK)

Emily Graham, Paul Gready, Eric Hoddy, Rachel Pennington

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction This chapter focuses on human rights cities as sites of human rights practice, using York (UK) as a case study. The main argument articulated in the chapter, and illustrated with reference to the York Human Rights City Network (YHRCN), is that cities are at the forefront of new forms of human rights practice, which are moving away from singular, top down, state-focused strategies in favour of multi-dimensional, multi-actor, contextual and bottom-up, grassroots approaches. As such, the main question addressed by the chapter is: Why and how are cities driving new forms of human rights practice? Secondary questions include: In the context of globalisation and complex systems of governance, how do we understand the emergence of cities as sites of protest and human rights activism? Can cities bark back, and contest regressive national or international-level policy and discourse? Why do some cities embrace the human rights discourse and not others, and which actors matter in defining city-based human rights agendas? This chapter starts by setting out the shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’, and why this has led to a rise in city-based politics and activism. The second section assesses dilemmas relating to human rights implementation, arguing that implementation requires engagement with multiple actors involved in governance, and diverse strategies, beyond classic human rights strategies of litigation and naming and shaming. In this context, the section explores challenges relating to localising rights, culture and framing. The remainder of the chapter assesses the work of YHRCN through the lenses of governance and human right implementation. The main argument is that in York a participatory indicator project focusing on economic and social rights is being used to try and move away from top down, state-led participation to community driven ‘structured engagement’ (Marshall, Ward and Browne 2014) and that this represents a challenge to mainstream city governance arrangements and human rights practice. Cities as sites of human rights governance Governance refers to the processes through which a plurality of private economic and civil society actors are incorporated into areas of policy making, administration and implementation that had until recently been considered the purview of the state (Swyngedouw 2005). The shift to governance was underpinned by the neoliberal turn and economic globalisation in developed countries from the 1970s.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Urban Justice
Subtitle of host publicationThe Rise of Human Rights Cities
EditorsBarbara Oomen, Martha Davis, Michele Grogolo
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781316544792
ISBN (Print)9781107147010
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

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