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Research Themes

Governance and Human Rights: Defining Our Agenda

Globalisation and greater integration are requiring states and societies in the global South to engage more than before with international institutions, rules and norms. What constitutes good or right conduct by states and non-state actors, and what is rightly due individuals, citizens and communities wherever they are, are concerns central to the blurring of domestic and international politics. Shifts in the fulcrum of world power raise new questions on what common values underpin international society and define human well-being, on how they are pursued, and on the consequences for developing states and societies. Redoubling this complexity, local polities and national, sub-regional and regional institutions mediate these influences and pursue their own normative approaches and agendas. Innovations to address persistent underdevelopment, political instability and human vulnerability must understand and navigate this changing political terrain.

  • What and who defines governance as good or human rights as universal? How are new major foreign players in Africa shaping governance and rights agendas?
  • What impact are new information technologies having on human rights activism, public debate, political participation, accountability and governance, and how can their benefits be advanced?
  • Are regional and sub-regional institutions better placed to protect rights, build peace, maintain security and enforce state responsibility? Are they more legitimate or effective than international institutions and foreign actors?
  • How are transitional societies or those emerging from violent conflict governed? Whose ‘peace’ should be built?
  • What do ideas and categories of ‘governance’, ‘democracy’, ‘citizenship’, ‘law’ and ‘human rights’ mean in local contexts? Are other local categories more relevant? How do historical and local understandings help this inquiry?
  • How are the population and migration consequences of macro-environmental change to be addressed, including their gender and generation consequences? How are human rights and citizenship rights understood and vindicated in the midst of such large-scale change?

In studying such questions, the Centre of Governance and Human Rights is a locus for collaboration and ideas exchange in Cambridge, bringing together practitioners, policymakers and academics from developed and developing countries to contribute to a dialogue about the role of rights and governance in tackling development, justice and security priorities. In developing and executing a research agenda focused on priority themes, the Centre has forged close links with a range of academic, policy and practitioner collaborators in the UK and overseas. Our agenda leverages the Centre's uniqueness in combining the study of governance and human rights in a genuinely multi-disciplinary department. We neither reduce governance to technocratic efficacy, nor human rights to the rectitude of the law alone. We investigate the politics of ideas, interests and institutions associated with governance and rights in their contexts, exploring how the public good is defined and pursued and by whom, keeping front of mind that a robust analytical understanding provides the best basis to advance human well-being.