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1.07 Law, Society and Politics in Comparative Perspective

Instructor: Prof. Helen Hartnell
Language of instruction:
Course type:
Subject course
Contact hours:
48 (6 per day)
Course days
: see class schedule
ECTS credits
: 4
Course fee:
€ 1,100
  • Syllabus (printable PDF incl. day-to-day schedule)

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 and Marx), and consider their relevance to contemporary debates about morality, (dis)obedience, conflict, and property. Next, we investigate the role and operation of law in totalitarian settings such as Nazi and Communist Germany. Finally, we consider the difficulties such legacies pose for democracy, the rule of law, and the economy in post-totalitarian and authoritarian societies, including the need for ‘transitional justice’, the relationship between law and the market, and the challenges posed by freedom of speech and freedom of association.

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.

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.


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 complete a writing assignment (written protocol of 5-7 double-spaced pages) analyzing some of the assigned readings. Finally, each student is required to take a written final examination.


  • Class attendance and participation: 40%
  • Written protocol(s): 25%
  • Final exam: 35%


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