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Theory and Methods Course in Socio-Legal Research

The aims of this course are:

1.To introduce students from a law and social science background to the contributions of
sociology, politics, anthropology and economics to understanding the role of law in society,
and thus to highlight the various ways in which law contributes to the governance of

2. To introduce students to major classic and contemporary debates in socio-legal studies,

including discussions about the nature of law.

3. To enable students to situate their own socio-legal research project within the context of
these debates, also in order to begin to identify the contribution of their specific project to
wider socio-legal debates.

4. To introduce students to key empirical methods for the collection and analysis of empirical

Learning objectives

1. At the end of the course students will be able to identify a range of theoretical and
conceptual resources that can help to frame their socio-legal research project.

2. At the end of the course students will be able to formulate specific research questions to
focus their own project, and to develop a research design in order to answer these

3. At the end of the course students will be able to identify which, if any, methods they may
want to use for the collection and analysis of empirical data in their project.

The course does not seek to provide a comprehensive coverage of the whole field of
social-legal inquiry, but focuses instead on selected issues as an introduction to and way
of illustrating the approaches taken by a variety of scholars. Each of the seminars is a
self-contained, stand-alone 2-hour interactive session.

Attendance is not optional. It is a part of the methodological training required of all CSLS
students. However, to ensure a sufficient link between the course and your project, you may
substitute relevant sessions provided elsewhere at the University for up to two sessions in
Michaelmas Term and up to three sessions in Hilary Term. This should be discussed and
agreed with your supervisor, and the Centre’s Director of Graduate Studies should be

Seminars take place – unless otherwise stated - on Mondays, 2.00 - 4.00 pm in the
CSLS Meeting Room, No. 341.

Sessions in Michaelmas Term are intended to provide an introduction to a selection of

key approaches and debates in contemporary socio-legal studies. The discussions will
explore the nature of law and the various forms it takes in a variety of social settings and
relationships. Understanding the nature of different theoretical and disciplinary
approaches to the study of law will equip you with the perspective necessary to pose
questions that are relevant to the field, and to appreciate the range of different ways in
which you might explore them. The overarching objective of the term is to empower you
to ground your project in the socio-legal field, while enabling you to exercise as much
choice as possible about how you frame your project intellectually.

WEEK 1: Monday 9th October, Dr Marina Kurkchiyan

Meaning of law within competing social orders
This session deals with approaches that have been developed to explain how society is
organised, how various social forces ensure its coordinated functioning, and which
institutions maintain its stability. These are fundamental questions in social science, and the
debate about each of them is supported by a vast body of academic literature, which develops
an assortment of theoretical models. Whichever approach is taken, it will affect, either
implicitly or explicitly, the way in which the nature of law is understood and its role in
organising social order. During the session we will analyse various theories and link their
interpretations of what law is to the larger viewpoints of social philosophy. We will then
discuss whether the models have relevance to empirical reality, whether different societies
are built upon different models of social order, whether the maintenance of social order is a
fixed process or an evolving one, and the implications of all these possibilities for the analysis
of law in a specific social context.

Essential reading:
Thomas, P. (1997), “Socio-Legal Studies: The Case Of Disappearing Fleas And Bustards”,
in P. Thomas (ed), Socio-Legal Studies, Aldershot: Ashgate.
Turner, Bryan S. (ed.) 1999. The Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. pp 19–71.
Kurkchiyan, M. 2010. Perceptions of Law and Social Order: A Cross-National Comparison,
Wisconsin Journal of International Law 27, 3 (will be distributed).

WEEK 2: Monday 16th October, Prof Fernanda Pirie

Weber: Law in modern society
Max Weber has had a profound influence on socio-legal scholarship. His main concern was
to analyse the modern bureaucratic state, of which he was not uncritical. He draws a series of
distinctions between the different types of legitimacy and authority that underlie different types
of society and government. He makes a related set of distinctions between (rational) law and
a legal order, on the one hand, and custom, convention, and related forms of order, on the
Economy and Society is based on Weber's lecture notes and his opinions on law are
scattered and, to some extent, repetitive. But you should aim to understand his overall views
on the role that law plays in the modern state and how this differs from ‘non-rational’ social
orders. It is also important to note and consider Weber's theory of 'ideal types', as a
methodological device in sociological scholarship.
Tamanaha's chapter provides a thorough and useful overview of themes in law and society
scholarship, which includes a discussion and comparison of Durkheim and Weber.
Essential reading
Weber, Max. 1978. Economy and Society (G. Roth and C. Wittich, trans.) Berkeley:
University of California Press. [Vol 1: pp. 3–38 (esp. 4–7, 19–22, 24–26, 29–38), 212–26,
311–37 (esp. 311–25)]

Additional reading
Tamanaha. 2001. A General Jurisprudence of Law and Society. Oxford: University Press.
[Ch. 2. esp. pp. 32–40]

WEEK 3: Monday 23rd October, Dr Bettina Lange

Is law a regulatory tool or a knowledge regime?
The purpose of this session is to render explicit how specific ways of understanding law steer
socio-legal research towards particular research questions and perspectives. We will explore
two influential socio-legal conceptions of law. First, the session will critically analyse an
instrumentalist conception of law, which perceives law as a powerful normative order that can
regulate social actors’ behaviour and facilitate social change. Second, the session will
contrast this instrumentalist conception with a symbolic understanding of law. Here law does
not just encompass social practices, but is a particular way of representing and understanding
the social world. We will discuss how this idea of law as a knowledge regime has been
developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault.

Essential reading:
Golder, Ben and Fitzpatrick, Peter. 2009. Foucault’s Law. London: Routledge. Ch.1.
Valverde, Mariana, 2010, ‘Specters of Foucault in Law and Society Scholarship’, Annual
Rev. Law Soc. Sci. 6, 45-59.

Further reading:
Haines, Fiona, 2011, The paradox of regulation: what regulation can achieve and what it
cannot. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar., Chs 2 and 9.
Hammer, Leonard M., 2007, A Foucauldian Approach to International Law:
Descriptive Thought for Normative Issues, Routledge, Chs. 1,2,8.

WEEK 4: Monday 30th October, Prof Fernanda Pirie

Non-state law: anthropological approaches
How is law to be identified outside the formal legal systems of the nation state? What does it
even mean to talk of ‘non-state law’? Should it be identified by its sources, its functions, or its
form? This seminar discusses debates about the nature of law generated by anthropological
examples from around the world, including what is promoted as ‘legal pluralism’, and the ways
in which they can be used to reflect upon what law is.

Essential reading:
Moore, Sally Falk. 1973. Law and Social Change: the Semi-Autonomous Social Field as an
Appropriate Subject of Study. Law & Society Review 7: 719–46.
Roberts, Simon. 2005. After government: on representing law without the state. Modern Law
Review 68: 1–24.

Further reading
Griffiths, John. 1986. What is legal pluralism? Journal of Legal Pluralism 19: 1–47.
Barkun, Michael. 1968. Law without Sanctions: order in primitive societies and the world
community. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Pirie, Fernanda. 2010. Law before government: ideology and aspiration. Oxford Journal of
Legal Studies 30: 207–28.
WEEK 5: Monday 6th November, Prof Fernanda Pirie
Law beyond the state: transnational laws and human rights
Historical examples of mercantile relations indicate that laws have transcended state
boundaries for centuries. Given the lack of formal enforcement mechanisms, their status as
law is contested by some, but they obviously remain significant. How might we understand
these empirical phenomena? In what senses are they forms of law?
Koskenniemi and the Comaroffs provide different views, from legal theory and anthropology,
Some of the most important examples of transnational laws, those concerning human rights,
have been the subject of a huge literature across several disciplines. Theoretically, the
objections to the concept of universal human rights can seem overwhelming, but they are the
subject of ever more legislation—both national and international—litigation and activism, in all
parts of the world. Again, how should we understand them as forms of law?

Essential reading
Pirie, Fernanda. 2013. Law and the State. In The Anthropology of Law. OUP. [Ch 8]

Additional reading

This reading is entirely optional:

On transnational laws
Koskenniemi, Martti. 2011. What is International Law for? In M. Koskenniemi (ed.) The
Politics of International Law. Oxford: Hart, and in M.D. Evans. 2003. International Law.
Comaroff, John and Jean. 2006. Introduction. In J. & J. Comaroff (eds), Law and Disorder in
the Postcolony. Chicago: University Press. [esp. pp. 19–]

On human rights and cultural relativism

Wilson. R. (ed.) 1997. Human rights, culture and context: an introduction. London: Pluto
Merry, Sally. 2003. Human rights law and the demonization of culture, POLAR 26(1): 55–76.

WEEK 6 Monday 13th November, Dr Jessie Blackbourn

Law, Politics and Security
Security events, in particular terrorist attacks, often lead to the hasty enactment of new
legislation, designed to cover perceived ‘gaps’ in the existing legislative regime. In this
situation, ordinary parliamentary processes are typically truncated, the executive dominates
the legislature, and parliamentary accountability is diminished. The purpose of this session is
to examine not just how security events impact the parliamentary legislative process, but also
to understand how legislation enacted in the aftermath of a terrorist attack may affect
fundamental norms, in particular human rights, which in the UK are protected domestically
under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Essential Readings
Alexander Horne and Clive Walker, ‘Parliament and National Security’ in Alexander Horne
and Andrew Le Sueur (eds.) Parliament Legislation and Accountability (Hart, 2016).
David Bonner, ‘Responding to crisis: legislating against terrorism’ (2006) Law Quarterly
Review 602
Further Readings
Conor Gearty, ‘11 September 2001, Counter-terrorism, and the Human Rights Act’ (2005)
32(1) Journal of Law and Society 18.
Alexander Horne and Clive Walker, ‘The Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures
Act 2011: One Thing but Not Much the Other?’ (2012) Criminal Law Review 421.

WEEK 7: Monday 20th November, Prof Chris Hodges

Dispute Resolution: Theory and Practice
What are the different models of resolving disputes? What would be the criteria against
which we compare and evaluate them? This session will look at direct negotiation, fighting,
courts, administrative tribunals, public regulatory agencies, arbitration, ‘alternative dispute
resolution’ (ADR) models involving assistance from intermediaries, like mediation,
ombudsmen, business association code schemes as well as small business

Essential reading:
Galanter, M. 1974. Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal
Change, Law and Society Review 9(1): 95. Reprinted (with corrections) in R Cotterrell (ed.)
and Society. Aldershot, 1994. pp.165–230.
Stadler, A. and C. Hodges (eds), 2013. Resolving Mass Disputes: ADR and Settlement of
Claims Edward Elgar.

Further reading:
Fiss, O. 1984. Against Settlement, Yale Law Journal 93: 1073
Roberts, S. and M. Palmer. 2005. Dispute Processes: ADR and the Primary Forms of
Making. Cambridge University Press.
Hodges, C. 2015. US Class Actions: Theory and Reality. EUI Florence working paper
(ERC ERPL 14) http://hdl.handle.net/1814/36536

WEEK 8: Monday 27th November, Dr Chris Decker

Key discussions in law and economics
This session will provide a general overview of the historical development, and main research
agendas, of the different strands of the law and economics movement. It will trace this
development from early scholarly interactions, through the Historical and Institutional
schools, and the ‘Chicago’ law and economics movement, to the more recent ‘new
institutional’ and ‘behavioural’ law and economics approaches. The central research themes
of each of these schools will be considered, along with the legacy of each school in terms of
both theory, and methodology. In so doing, the session will explore some of the main areas
where economics and law have become practically intertwined in scholarly work as well as
in practical policy contexts (such as regulation; antitrust and consumer behaviour and
economic sociology).
Essential reading:
Mackay, E. 2000. History of law and economics. In Encyclopaedia of Law and Economics,
B Bouckaert and G De Geest (eds.), Volume I. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. pp. 66–99.
Sunstein, C. and R. Thaler. 2003. Libertarian Paternalism Is Not An Oxymoron, University
of Chicago Law Review.

Further reading:
R Swedberg, 2003. ‘The case for an economic sociology of law’ 32 Theory and Society 1.
R Ellickson, 1989. ‘Bringing culture and human frailty to rational actors: a critique of classical
law and economics’ Chicago Kent Law Review 23.
H Hovenkamp, 1990. ‘The First Great Law & Economics Movement’ Stanford Law Review


In these seminars you will discuss the practical techniques available to carry out socio-legal
research and the ways in which they relate to whatever theoretical approach you might take.
You will consider which questions you can ask and answer through which methods. At the
session in Week 8, CSLS students who have reached an advanced stage of their project or
who have already completed their theses will share some of their experiences with you. They
will talk informally about the challenges that they faced and the bridges they had to cross. In
the concluding sessions held in the Trinity Term you will be invited to make an overall
presentation of your chosen project.

WEEK 1: Monday 15th January, Dr Marina Kurkchiyan

Introduction to empirical socio-legal research methods
The session will provide a general survey of the social and philosophical roots of the various
techniques available for data collection and analysis. Particular attention will be paid to the
contested issues in social science research, such as: What are we trying to achieve when we
are engaged in research activities? Do qualitative and quantitative approaches have equal
claims to be considered ‘scientific’? When we decide on which methods to use in collecting
the information we need, what assumptions are we making and what do they imply? What
philosophical approaches do these assumptions rest upon? What do the differences between
the various approaches entail for the interpretation of the nature of knowledge and truth?
Finally, having surveyed the dynamic interplay between theoretical concepts and empirical
data, the discussion will stress the importance of constructing a conceptual framework that
will ensure the consistency and integrity of a research project.

Essential reading:
Robson, C. 2002. Real World Research. Blackwell Publishing. Part I, pp. 3–77.

WEEK 2: Monday 22nd January, Dr Marina Kurkchiyan

Introduction to qualitative socio-legal research methods
This session will offer practical advice on how to approach qualitative research, frame
research questions, negotiate access and conduct semi-structured and unstructured
interviews. The approach will be based on practical experience and will offer tips and warn
about pitfalls. The seminar will also demonstrate the ‘grounded theory’ approach to research,
in which empirical research techniques are not merely a-theoretical tools, but the source
of new concepts and theories.

Essential reading:
Halliday, S. and P. Schmidt. 2009. Beyond Methods: Law and Society in Action. New York:
Cambridge University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 7, 14.

McBarnet, D. 2004. Crime, compliance and control. Ashgate. Introduction (Ch. 1 ‘False
dichotomies in criminal justice research’ might also be useful)

Further reading:
Further chapters from Halliday, S. and P. Schmidt’s book.

WEEK 3: Monday 29th January, Dr Bettina Lange

Analysing qualitative data
Socio-legal scholarship has been developed through research projects that draw on empirical
data or through theoretical research that builds on a critical analysis of empirically informed
socio-legal research. In other words, whether you are conducting purely theoretical or
empirical socio-legal research you will need to engage with the question of how empirical data
about law and society phenomena can be analysed, and what constitutes good analysis of
qualitative empirical data.

This seminar provides an introduction to analysing qualitative empirical data for socio-legal
research projects. It draws attention to how prior theoretical assumptions about social and
legal worlds shape approaches to qualitative data analysis. It will introduce discourse analysis
as one particular approach to qualitative data analysis, and discuss ‘coding’ as a technique of
qualitative data analysis. The seminar will therefore combine critical reflection upon theoretical
foundations of qualitative data analysis with ‘hands on’ analysis of qualitative data.

Essential reading:
Bryman, Alan. 2012. Social Research Methods, Chapter 24 (Qualitative Data Analysis) (4th
Oxford University Press.
Taylor, Stephanie. 2001. Locating and Conducting Discourse Analytic Research. In M.
S. Taylor, and S.J. Yates (eds), Discourse as data: a guide for analysis. London: Sage.

If available, bring to the seminar an example of qualitative empirical data you are using in your
research or you have used in previous research, e.g. for an undergraduate or master’s
dissertation, such as two pages of an interview transcript or notes for (participant) observation,
or notes taken for summarizing key points from a public policy document.

Further reading
Lange, Bettina. 2015. Regulating economic activity through performative discourses: a case
of the EU carbon market. In Lange, Haines and Thomas (eds) Regulatory Transformations:
Rethinking Economy and Society Interactions. Oxford: Hart.

WEEK 4: Monday 5th February, Prof Fernanda Pirie

Ethnographic Methods
Participant observation is a key technique of ethnographic socio-legal research methods. It is
a type of research that could be regarded as diametrically opposed to the collection of
quantitative data. This relates not only to the methods but to the types of questions that can
be answered, the research design and the subsequent analysis of data.

In the seminar we will discuss the practical issues of undertaking participant observation, but
we will start by considering the how participant observation relates to other types of research
and the continuum between quantitative and qualitative methods that have been discussed in
the first and second weeks. To this end you should do some reading on the nature of
ethnography and participant observation and consider how your own project may be placed
on the scale between quantitative and ethnographic methodologies. You should also read a
case study about participant observation and anticipate whether you might encounter any
similar practical issues in your own research.

Essential reading:
Nader, Laura. 1986. ‘From anguish to exultation’. In P. Golde (ed.) Women in the field.
For theories of research methods, including participant observation, the following have
reasonably good summaries:
Punch, K. F. 2005. Introduction to Social Research: quantitative and qualitative approaches.
Hammersley, M. and P. Atkinson. 1995. Ethnography: principles in practice. [Ch 1]

WEEK 5: Monday 12th February, Dr Kevin Grecksch

Introduction to quantitative methods
This session offers a basic introduction to the use of quantitative methods in social science
research: Prior knowledge of quantitative methods is not expected nor required. We will cover
the basic forms taken by quantitative datasets and how to select the appropriate tools to
analyse them, as well as the strengths, challenges, and potential problems of quantitative data
collection and analysis. The session will focus on the importance of research design and
choosing the right statistical techniques to ensure useful research outcomes. Questionnaire
and survey design, sampling, the use of software, and the use of secondary data sets will be

Essential reading:
In Bryman, A. 2012. Quantitative Data Analysis. In Social Research Methods. Oxford: OUP.
particular chapters 7, 8, 14, and 15.

The OUP website has some useful additional learning resources linked to the book,
including multiple choice questions where you can check your understanding, a glossary,
datasets from the book, etc. see http://global.oup.com/uk/orc/sociology/brymansrm5e/

Further reading:
Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods Chapters 13 and 16 (where relevant to the
Wonnacott, T. and R. Wonnacott. 1990. Introductory Statistics. (5th ed.) Wiley.
Agresti, B and B. Finlay. 2009. Statistical Methods for Social Sciences (4th ed.) Person.
Treiman, DJ. 2009. Quantitative Data Analysis: Doing Social Research to Test Ideas (1st
Wiley. [Not the most straightforward of reads, but useful for those intending to analyse using
STATA, as it contains worked examples].

WEEK 6: Monday 19th February, Prof Fernanda Pirie

Comparison in Socio-Legal Studies
As the field of socio-legal studies has diversified, the study of ‘law in society’ has expanded
into the study of ‘laws in societies’. It is characterized by research into the nature and role of
different types of law, as well as the role they play in different types of society. This session
gives a taster of the possibilities offered by comparison amongst empirical studies of laws in
their contexts. It concentrates on the particular challenges presented by comparisons amongst
qualitative studies, as well as asking about what comparison between them might reveal.
Essential reading
Creutzfeldt, Naomi, Agnieszka Kubal, and Fernanda Pirie. 2016. Introduction: Exploring the
Comparative in Socio-Legal Studies. In F. Pirie, A. Kubal, and N. Creutzfeldt (eds),
Comparative Socio-Legal Studies, special issue of the International Journal of Law in
Context, 12: 377–89.

Additional reading
Papers in the same special issue provide good examples of how comparison might be
undertaken, in practice.

WEEK 7: Monday 26th February, Dr Kevin Grecksch

Scenario building and analysis
This session deals with a participatory action research method: scenario building and analysis.
This qualitative method involves stakeholders and engages them in unconstrained blue-sky
thinking about the future. The aim of a scenario building exercise is to develop scenarios for
potential future developments and it is useful in cases where there is fairly good knowledge
regarding how a certain system works at present, but one is interested in exploring the
consequences of alternative developments. Using a recent example, we will discuss the
benefits of the method, what the method entails, potential problems and in what cases it makes
sense to apply the method.

Essential Reading:

Börjeson, Lena, Mattias Höjer, Karl-Henrik Dreborg, Tomas Ekvall, and Göran Finnveden.
‘Scenario Types and Techniques. Towards a User’s Guide.’ Futures 38 (2006): 723–39.
De Jouvenel, Hugues. ‘A Brief Methodological Guide to Scenario Building’. Technological
Forecasting and Social Change 65 (2000): 37–48.
Grecksch, Kevin. (2017). Resilient drought and water scarcity management in England and
Wales in 2065. Scenario Workshop Report. Oxford: Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.
Available here: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-and-subject-groups/governance-water-

Further reading:

Durance, Philippe, and Michel Godet. ‘Scenario Building: Uses and Abuses’. Technological
Forecasting and Social Change, 77 (2010): 1488–92.
Chevalier, Jacques M., and Daniel Buckles. Participatory Action Research : Theory and
Methods for Engaged Inquiry. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. (chapter 15)

WEEK 8: Monday, 5 March, Dr Jessie Blackbourn

Experiences of doing field research – research ethics - field safety
In this session two or three of the Centre’s most senior doctoral students will be invited to
share with the group their experience of conducting empirical research and discuss the
problems that they have encountered in the final process of writing a full thesis draft. They will
reflect upon the challenges that they have faced at the various stages of advanced research,
how they have overcome them, and what lessons they have learned during the implementation
of the project that they envisioned at the outset three years before. You will also be provided
with an introduction to staying safe during field work and the University of Oxford research
ethics approval procedures.
WEEK 8 Wednesday, 7 March, *2 – 5 pm*, Dr Bettina Lange
Research Design Workshop
The purpose of this informal workshop is to explore what is involved in developing a ‘research
design’ for a socio-legal project. You will be invited to bring draft research design statements
for your project to the workshop and to briefly present these to the class.

The workshop will start off with a discussion on how to design a socio-legal research project.
Most of the time will be devoted to short student presentations on the research design for your
project, i.e. the ‘what, how and why’ of your project, and the discussion of these research
design statements. Hence, this workshop provides an opportunity for you to obtain
constructive feedback from your peers and the seminar leader on how to tighten links in your
project between the key research question that you seek to answer, the theoretical framework
through which you want to investigate your research puzzle and the research techniques
through which you will gather and analyse primary empirical data or secondary sources in
order to answer your research question.

Essential reading:
Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4th edition, ch.

Further reading:
De Vaus, D. 2001. Research Design in Social Research. London: Sage Publications.


In one of the two sessions you will make a short presentation of your research project to the
rest of the students and some of the Centre’s research fellows. You will also be expected to
participate in the discussions relating to the other presentations in order to help every
research student to develop his or her own project to its maximum potential.


Monday 23rd April, Centre Fellows and Students, chaired by Dr Bettina Lange
Presentations of Student Projects I


Monday 30th April, Centre Fellows and Students, chaired by Dr Bettina Lange
Presentations of Student Projects II + dinner