Universiteit Leiden

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Law and Society (MSc)

Programme structure

The core curriculum equips students with the conceptual approaches and qualitative empirical research methods necessary to analyze law in context. Specialized electives enable students to dive deeper and focus on particular areas of legal practice—from legal mobilization to regulation and compliance.

Full-time programme

The programme is offered full-time (one academic year) in daytime classes. Each course is concluded with an examination. This is usually in the form of an essay or other written assignment.  You will be expected to make regular contributions throughout the courses and are required to prepare oral and written presentations, in both individual and group assignments.

Course Overview

I II III  IV V            VI
The Foundations of Law and Society  The Foundations of Law and Society        
Legal Pluralism Lawmaking, Society and Politics The Rule of Man in the Rule of Law Disputing Deconstructed    
      Researching Law in Society    
    Thesis Proposal      



This course introduces students to the main issues, theories and concepts in the study of  law and society. Three overarching questions will be guiding in this course: How is law in the books different from law in action? How do law and legal institutions affect social relations and the distribution of power within society? And finally, how do social relations and existing power differentials affect the emergence, preservation and change of law and legal institutions?

In considering these three questions, the course concentrates on themes that return in subsequent courses including, but not limited to, lawmaking, the implementation and enforcement of law, the resolution of disputes inside and outside of court, the existence of multiple normative systems within one country, and the way in which social movements and NGOs mobilize law to realize social change. The course focuses on topical cases in both the Global North and the Global South. Furthermore, it aims to make students aware of the different layers – sub-national, national, regional and international – that affect the emergence and behaviour of law and legal institutions. Finally, the course trains students in the methodological evaluation of socio-legal research.

In this course students learn how to analyse and understand the existence of normative systems other than the state's, their nature and functioning, and how they interact with state and society. To what extent do they offer a viable alternative to state law, and how do they influence the legitimacy of, access to, and use of state law? Such non-state normative systems include customary law, religious law (particularly Islamic law), but also all kinds of social norms existing for example in professional organisations, sects, industries etc.

Legal pluralism can be the result of the imposition of colonial laws on societies with indigenous legal systems, of the continued adherence of immigrant groups to their own normative systems, or of state regulation of any group with its own normative order. Building upon and expanding knowledge of concepts and theories in legal anthropology and sociology of law, the course introduces the concept of semi-autonomous social fields as a tool to describe and understand the behaviour of people in normatively pluralistic fields, relating this behaviour to questions of legitimacy of the various authority structures in place.

The semi-autonomy of social fields, which generate and enforce their own normative orders, poses a serious challenge to the idea of legal engineering, viz. changing society through the enactment of new (state) legislation. Local authority structures, whether of a customary, religious or heterogeneous nature, often possess a local following and legitimacy that state institutions do not possess. States have to grapple with these situations of legal pluralism, and the challenges they pose to a state’s sovereignty and legal supremacy. It can also be the case that local leaders have lost much local legitimacy, but are propped up by the state.

The course considers the methods of incorporation and the effects of recognition of non-state law into the state’s political, legal and institutional framework. It also considers to what extent and how international and national efforts at good governance, democratization and legal reform take into account the non-state values, norms and practices of the societies concerned. The polarizing question as to the role of sharia in western countries makes clear that this is an issue of global relevance. Students will be trained to analyse legally pluralistic situations, and to evaluate different types of rule of law and transitional justice interventions in such situations.

This course examines the process of policy and lawmaking, by critically looking into and questioning the underlying rationales and decisions that are being made to use law as the instrument of choice to respond to problems in society. In so doing, this course will predominantly focus on laws and policies that are drafted in response to what nowadays is considered to be a very urgent social threat: International and home-grown terrorism.

By focusing on this ‘extreme’ case of counterterrorism legislation, the course examines how successful law and policy can be in performing several major functions: allocating authority, defining relationships, resolving conflict, adapting to social change, and fostering social solidarity. It will assess the nature and limits of rules and regulations as well as consider alternative perspectives on social control and social change.

Lawmaking is frequently the result of grassroots/bottom-up processes, where social demands are articulated through collective action and then elevated to a higher political and administrative level. By contrast, lawmaking initiatives can also be the result of elite agendas that are played out far removed from the public view. Another important feature of lawmaking that students will learn about is how it involves social analysis or judgment of problems by those involved in the process, and how this is then translated into normative rules.

Additionally, part of the lawmaking process concerns an analysis of whether the new legal rules are in conformity with those already in place (including human rights). The course will pay attention to the ‘toolboxes’ of quality control instruments that have been developed across the globe to be used during lawmaking. A third theme is how ethnographies of lawmaking processes may be used to reveal the broader assumptions political and government elites have about the law and how it works in practice.

From a criminological and legal-sociological perspective, the course addresses social and legal dilemma’s faced by political and legal institutions while governing the international threat of (transnational) terrorism, guaranteeing safety and handling international and national crises on the one hand, and protecting the rule of law in a democratic yet complex society on the other hand.

While laws are made by lawmakers, it is civil servants who implement them vis-à-vis citizens. In applying the law, ‘street-level bureaucrats’ do not always treat similar cases in a similar manner. This course shows how the ambiguity of legal rules, situations of legal pluralism (or the co-existence of multiple legal orders), and the allocation of discretion by lawmakers to bureaucrats allow for this kind of inequality to emerge.

The course then explores the varied patterns of unequal treatment that arise and it considers explanations for this inequality. The course familiarises students with explanations that operate at the level of institutions, such as organisational cultures, and individual decision-makers. Case material will concentrate on different types of bureaucrats in different countries, including social workers, court clerks and law enforcers – public and private. In addition, the course will address frames for explaining non-compliance with rules, shifting the lens to the perspective of the addressees of executive institutions.

The course combines more theory-orientated lectures, on the contours and frames within which to consider the rule of man, with classes focussing on specific case studies. In the latter, guest lecturers provide examples from their research or practice in the second hour of the class.

Although the term ‘alternative dispute resolution’ suggests that courts are the primary site of dispute resolution, in fact they never are. If disputes reach the court at all, they have almost always gone through long trajectories to get there – most disputes have either been resolved much earlier along the way or they have been ‘lumped together’. This module looks at the different trajectories disputes may go through, the options citizens have in trying to settle them, the choices they make, and the formal and informal fora for dispute settlement that are available.

Particular attention will be paid to the different social contexts in which citizens operate and how these influence the choices they make. Students will also learn about the importance for the state to exercise control over dispute resolution and the role courts play in this. State courts often have to compete with non-state institutions for dispute settlement. Control over dispute resolution is not only a way for the state to bolster its legitimacy by resolving those disputes that cannot be resolved locally, but also a way to determine which rules are enforced in dispute resolution. This is an important key to controlling social relations and/or practices, but quite complicated in countries where a sizeable proportion of disputes is processed in non-state ‘courts’ or dispute settlement institutions.

At the end of the course students will write an assessment about a legal field in a particular country with the objective to determine whether the types of dispute resolution in place are effective and where interventions are possible.

This module offers an introduction to qualitative and quantitative methods of socio-legal research. To start with, we will look at the difference between methods (how do you do your research) and methodology (why do you do your research in a certain way and how does this relate to different theoretical approaches). Students will be made familiar with some of the key methodologies that are used by socio-legal researchers. They will learn the basics of how to use qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection, including interviewing, participant observation, surveys, archival research, and the studying of court documents. Students will learn how to analyse such data, making use of qualitative and quantitative data analysis software. Students will practise some of these methods by carrying out short assignments themselves, but will also be working together in teams to enhance cross-fertilisation: Students with a law/legal background will be working together with students with a social-scientific background, and students with a more quantitative background will be paired with students trained in a more qualitative/ethnographic tradition.

In so doing, the students will naturally learn from each other and see how both perspectives complement each other in trying to understand and make sense of the development and the effects of law in society. The methods discussed and practised during this course will be used during the assignments for the following courses. Throughout the course, lecturers will refer to concrete experiences of conducting empirical research and discuss the challenges they encountered.

This module is designed to teach students how to draft a well-considered and well-written thesis proposal. Students are assigned a supervisor on the basis of their research topic (combined with the capacity of available staff) and grouped with peers focussing on similar topics. The classes consist of a maximum of ten students, and are organised by the same person supervising the thesis.

The module involves five meetings in five consecutive weeks. Each week an assignment is prepared by the student, and discussed in class. Each assignment focusses on a specific part of the proposal and builds on the former ones. Assignments are made individually, geared towards the individual thesis exploration. Additional to the assignments, students use this timeframe to read literature to add to the bibliography of their own projects. Class meetings are used to receive input on their own work and to learn by reflecting on the work of peers. Ultimately, students have a full draft thesis proposal. This proposal must be approved by the first and second supervisor in order for students to continue with the thesis. Within the timeframe of the Thesis Proposal a Labour Market Orientation Exercise is included, which aims to guide students on their future career possibilities.

The writing of a thesis is the final project in the master’s degree Law and Society. It brings together previously acquired skills such as identifying relevant Law and Society issues, applying concepts and theories to socio-legal challenges, written presentation skills and the formulation of an autonomous and substantiated argument, all in one single project. It functions as proof of academic competence. Writing a thesis is generally regarded as one of the hardest parts of pursuing a master’s degree, but which can also be a lot of fun.

You can pick two out of four electives:

This course aims to provide students with the tools to think and act strategically in trying to promote human rights. Under what conditions can human rights activism be effective? When does it make more sense to bring a case to court and when are other forms of advocacy more likely to bring about the results we’re looking for? And if one decides in favour of litigation, how do you actually go about it? 

Building on insights students have acquired during the course Making Human Rights Work we will engage more specifically with the literature on legal mobilization and what we can learn from it with regard to human rights promotion. We will discuss other forms of advocacy and their pros and cons and look at case studies to apply such insights to contemporary human rights issues, such as FGM and dispossession. 

During the second part of the course the focus will move to the practice of human rights litigation, how to conduct such litigation but also what kind of actions outside of court can support it, for it to have maximum effect. Through case studies, we will explore diverse forms of strategic litigation adopted in different contexts and fora, on a range of human rights issues, to identify areas of progress and impact, as well as pitfalls and limitations. Particular focus is on factors that may have informed the litigation process and its impact, including strategies adopted by diverse actors.  The ultimate aim is to make students more conscious of the possibilities and limitations of human rights approaches to real life problems and to provide them with the tools to engage in such promotion in a meaningful way.

Migration and (cross-border) mobility are phenomena of all times, but within the recent decades of intensifying globalization and of increasing transnational interactions they have become more prominent. The so-called European refugee crisis is an important and recent illustration of the tragic and complex dynamics of migration and cross-border mobility.

This course takes a broad socio-legal, multilevel and multidisciplinary theoretical view of the regulation of the movement of people around the world. It pays equal attention to South-South migration, South-North migration and patterns of migration where migrants do not cross an international border.

The course begins with an examination of theoretical approaches to global movements of people, including the relationship and interaction between State sovereignty and citizenship, and individual rights. The course will then look at some of the root causes of cross-border mobility; why is it that people decide to move? Which options do they have as voluntary migrants, and which options as forced migrants? What is the difference between these categories and does it matter? And what implications does mobility have for ways in which people can obtain access to justice and other basic services? The course will look into these questions by exploring a number of topical cases of mobility, particularly in Africa and Asia. Both regions are traditionally known for high levels of mobility, both cross-border and within borders.

The course will furthermore address ways in which both Western and non-Western countries address such movements of people, and with what outcomes, migration, religious and cultural diversity, and terrorism are being managed. Drawing on insights from theory and practice, the course will introduce students to contemporary debates, familiarize them with critical (human) rights issues, and appraise alternative possibilities for managing (cross-border) mobility and pluri-legal challenges. The course will make students better aware of the challenges of migration and cross-border mobility within a globalizing world, both for people on the move, for host communities, and for national governments and supranational institutions.

This module examines the evolution of different ideas about regulation and compliance, both from a governance perspective and from a corporate viewpoint. It starts with regulatory theory to analyse the different instruments and options available to regulate various aspects of society (regulatory design).

The regulatory field has witnessed a shift from command and control by national governments to a greater diversity of involved actors, a larger variety of steering modes and the increasing importance of levels of government other than the nation-state (both decentralized and supra-national governance).

The course proceeds by looking at how regulators as well as companies deal with the regulatory norms. We will look at enforcement styles, compliance management systems, and case studies of companies that have been caught for large-scale violations (capacity, incentives, corporate culture, different roles and positions within the company).

The course will lastly focus on corporate social responsibility, the (historical) development of the concept in different regions, the national and global legal frameworks applicable, the stakeholders involved, and the social and legal issues that arise when global corporations operate in national economies. Several concrete case studies will be drawn from a range of countries from different regions.

Every nation has its own dark chapters of history and the Netherlands and Bosnia and Herzegovina are not an exception. In this course, we focus on armed conflicts that led to the worst massacres in Europe after World War II: the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. We specifically focus on the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995 during which more than 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred, despite the presence of the UN Dutch battalion troops (Dutchbat) responsible for safeguarding the enclave Srebrenica. In 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague (established in 1993) determined that the Srebrenica massacres constituted genocide, and it prosecuted and passed judgement on these crimes. Domestic courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina also try war criminals. Do these judgements bring justice and rule of law? And, who decides this? International actors? You? A Bosnian war/genocide survivor? In this course, you will reflect on the meaning of justice and rule of law by analyzing written and visual materials, but also, and most importantly, by meeting with and interviewing Bosnian war and genocide survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina during a period of fieldwork of approximately 7 days.

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