Responding to the limits of court-based analyses and top-down position-taking in prevailing legal mobilization scholarship, this article goes beyond the courtroom to explore the value of rights-based legal mobilization from the perspective of those engaged in the campaigns to challenge racialized water disconnection in Johannesburg (2004–9) and Detroit (2014–). Against the backdrop of the ‘losing’ cases of Mazibuko and Lyda, the article finds evidence in the feedback from protagonists, of the relevance of rights-based mobilization notwithstanding the judicial defeats. The value of legal mobilization ascribed by affected communities and their allies aligns with the understanding of law as a form of political power in a dialectical relationship between structure and agency (Crawford and Andreassen 2013: 8–9). Using an expanded version of the ‘power cube’ (Gaventa 2006 and 2005), referred to here as the ‘powerpack’, the article engages in a bottom-up nuanced analysis of the multi-dimensional power of legal mobilization. In doing so, it contributes towards a deeper understanding of the transformative potential of rights-based mobilization for egalitarian socio-economic change.
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