Journal Articles

The Decentered Construction of Global Rights: Lessons from the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

Arkaja Singh
Daniel M Brinks, Bruce M Wilson


June 2, 2022

Families in Flint, Michigan, protesting lead in their water, indigenous groups in the Amazon asserting control over their rivers, slum dwellers in India worried about disconnection or demanding cities bring potable water to their neighborhoods, an entire city in South Africa worried about the day when they will run out of water altogether—all these and many more have claimed the human right to water as the vehicle to express their demands. Where does this right come from, and how is its meaning constructed? In this article, we show that, in sociolegal terms, the global right to water, as are many others, is constructed out of the myriad struggles and claims of people who feel the lack of something that is essential to a dignified existence, and who cannot obtain an adequate response from their immediate political and legal environment. They do so in loose conversation with, but relatively unconstrained by, the meanings that are being constructed by the international and domestic legal experts who work on formal legal texts. We draw on research carried out around the world by a team of scholars whose articles are included in this Special Issue of the journal to illustrate the decentered construction of the right to water.

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