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Law, Society and Politics in Comparative Perspective


InstructorProf. Helen Hartnell
Credit Points4 ECTS
Number of Places18


Student Profile

This course is designed for all students having an interest in social sciences – in particular, history, sociology or political science – or in law. It is conceived as an undergraduate class, but the variety of students taking this course typically ranges from first-year students to post-graduate students. This experiential diversity provides unique opportunities for students to learn from one another.

Course Description

This course explores theoretical and historical perspectives on the intersection of law, society and politics, and aims to foster discussion of contemporary issues among students from different cultures and disciplines. After an introduction to comparative law and legal culture, we read some classical social theorists (Durkheim, Weber, Marx) and consider their relevance to contemporary debates about morality, (dis)obedience, and conflict. Next, we investigate the role and operation of law in totalitarian settings such as Nazi and Communist Germany. Finally, we examine some of the difficulties that such legacies pose for democracy, the rule of law, and the economy in post-totalitarian societies. In this context, we examine the need for ‘transitional justice’, the challenges posed by freedom of speech, and the relationship between law and the market.

Overall, the course aims to develop skills at using theory and history to inform debates on contemporary challenges, such as multiculturalism, (illegal) downloading/streaming/file-sharing, squatting, and economic development. In addition to gaining substantive expertise in various socio- and politico-legal fields, students develop communicative competence through participatory exercises, and intercultural competence through discussion with other students.


No prior knowledge of law or of social science is required; the only prerequisite is an open mind.

Course Requirements

Students are expected to attend each class; read the literature assigned for each class; and participate in class discussions and excursions. In addition, each student must either (i) complete two written protocols that analyze assigned readings, or (ii) complete one written protocol and make a short, research-based in-class presentation on a different topic that is related to one of the class themes. Finally, each student is required to take a written final examination.


  • class attendance and participation 35%
  • 2 protocols or 1 protocol + oral in-class presentation 35%
  • final exam  30%


Readings for the course are contained in a reader that will be provided at orientation.