Governance in diverse societies


This line of research focuses on the legal challenges to governance in diverse societies. A diverse society is understood as a society composed of members with different national, cultural, religious, regional and/or ethnic identity. The origins of this diversity may be historical, for instance in the case of the presence of indigenous communities,  or more contemporary, as a result of  increased international mobility and migration in a globalized world. Diversity poses a number of challenges to governance in the classical concept of the nation-State where coherence between culture and nation on the territory prevails.

A first set of challenges relates to access to the territory, legal residence and citizenship. Under the traditional nation-State concept residence and citizenship may be awarded by the State acting on a discretionary basis. The complexities and realities of international mobility and migration, have changed this concept. Moreover, the duty under humanitarian law to protect those whose life or freedom is endangered in their countries of origin and the respect due to personal freedom, private life and family life under human rights law, have substantially impacted on the nation-States’ authority to regulate residence and citizenship. The ensuing legal position of individuals in the residence and/or citizenship process is an important research topic within this line of research. This includes an examination of the relationship between government and the non-citizen in terms of substantial and procedural rights and duties in the aforementioned processes.

Closely related to the previous research topic, are the challenges being put to the notion of citizenship as such as the principal condition for full access to rights and benefits. This research topic comprises the possibly conflicting approaches to citizenship for migrant groups and for indigenous groups. Whereas the first may develop claims to rights and benefits outside and beyond the status of citizen, the latter will argue that citizenship includes entitlement to more specific rights and benefits and can serve as a tool for more autonomy. Consequently, the legal notion and value of citizenship is examined.

This brings us to the third substantial challenge, namely the legal impact that diversity (and the underlying multitude of identities) has on the exercise of rights and freedoms deemed common to all those residing on the territory of a State. This topic is closely related to the view on the nature of the State, that ranges from an ethnical approach at one end (the nation being ethnical one, given origin, language and culture of its members) to a multicultural approach at the very other (the nation being politically one, but its members culturally and ethnically diverse). This part of the line of research focuses on the legal responses to diversity, most notably through recognition and imposition of the non-discrimination principle and application of group rights and cultural rights.

This line of research is related to the other three lines. Given the international nature of migration, this subject matter has increasingly become the object of a multilevel approach ranging from the local to the international level. Hence, this line of research can be seen as a more thematic application of some of the notions examined in the 'multilevel good governance' line of research. Equally important is the position of vulnerable persons in the public decision making process, a subject matter of the 'governance and public decision making' line of research. Finally, the discussions about the notion and contents of citizenship relate to the constitutional order and the role played by political actors and, increasingly, by constitutional courts therein in acknowledging and enforcing (citizens’) rights of members in a diverse society.

The methodology in this line of research combines, where possible, legal-doctrinal analysis with sociological and anthropological research methods. Part of the research is therefore also embedded in the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CeMIS).


This line of research aims to perform:

1.  Research on the access of non-citizens to residence and citizenship and their ensuing legal position;

2. Research on the notion of citizenship as a requirement and/or tool for individuals in diverse societies to obtain full membership;

3. Research on the exercise of rights and freedoms by members of a diverse society, in particular those in a minority position.