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Study information

Approaches to Research in Law (ESRC)

Module titleApproaches to Research in Law (ESRC)
Module codeLAWM686
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr David Barrett ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Undertaking research in law can involve a wide range of methodological approaches, separately or in combination. Learning how best to develop a methodology, and one which is suited to your project, is an essential part of the process of becoming a successful researcher. With this module, you will explore and learn about a number of existing approaches through interactive teaching sessions led by scholars with established expertise in the fields/approaches under discussion.

This module is compulsory for students registered on the MRes programme and open to all postgraduate research students at any stage of their study. There is no pre-requisite module, but if you are an MRes student you are expected to register for all the required modules as per the MRes degree specification.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Firstly, this module aims to make you aware of a range of possible approaches to legal research, to locate the specific socio-legal and empirical approaches in a wider methodological framework and to open up your methodological horizon. For each approach, you will be made aware of the key authorities, together with their respective merits and the possible difficulties generally associated with them. As a result, this module is meant to give you greater awareness of the methodological dimensions of research, and to guide you in choosing an appropriate approach (or combination of approaches) for your own research. Overall, it is meant to increase the scholarly rigour of your research.

Secondly, the module aims to encourage your independent research skills and participation in discussion through student-centred interactive teaching sessions. These sessions are further designed to give you the opportunity to put into practice a number of approaches, both separately and in combination, and to test your ideas and share experience with fellow students with the tutor’s guidance and advice.

Thirdly, the module aims to help you design your own methodological approach, by either following one of the approaches discussed in class and deepening your understanding, or choosing to combine two (possibly more) approaches in a way that makes most sense for your own research.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate deep and critical awareness of a range of possible methodological approaches to law, including empirical and socio-legal methods
  • 2. Demonstrate deep and systematic knowledge of a specific set of approaches more appropriate to your own research
  • 3. Compare, analyse and synthesise your understanding of these approaches and apply them in formulating research questions and in designing your own methodological framework.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate detailed and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of a range of legal approaches and of the significance of methodological choices for legal research.
  • 5. Demonstrate flexible and innovative ability to select an appropriate approach (or a combination of approaches) for your own research.
  • 6. Demonstrate detailed and comprehensive understanding and critical awareness of how your chosen approach(es) to research is (are) situated in relation to other approaches, as well as of their respective limits.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Clarify, plan and undertake tasks confidently and independently, individually and with others, to reflect critically on the learning process and to make use of feedback effectively.
  • 8. Identify, retrieve and use the full range of resources efficiently and autonomously.
  • 9. Interact effectively, confidently and proactively within a team/learning group, to share information and ideas, and to manage divergence of opinions in a professional manner.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

• Introduction and empirical approaches to law
• Comparative approaches to law
• Historical approaches to law
• Theoretical approaches to law
• Planning research

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities1510 x 1.5-hour workshops
Guided independent study80Locating and reading materials
Guided Independent Study20Preparing synthetic notes and short oral presentations for the specific task set in each workshop
Guided independent study35Assessment preparation: conducting research, producing formative work and writing up the summative work

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
One detailed essay plan corresponding to the summative essay 700 words 1-9 Individual written feedback (with oral feedback upon request)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003,000 words 1-9 Individual written feedback (with oral feedback upon request)

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (100%)Essay (3,000 words) 1-9 August/September re-assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative  Reading: 
Auchmuty R., ‘Recovering Lost Lives: Researching Women in Legal History’ (2015) Journal of Law and Society 42(1): 34-52

Burton, M and Watkins, D,  Research Methods in Law  (Routledge, 2013) 
Baldwin, R ,  ‘Why Rules Don't Work’ (1990) 53 Modern Law Review  321-37 
Baldwin, R and Cave, M,Understanding Regulation (Oxford University Press, 1999) 
Banakar, R and Travers, M (eds), An Introduction to Law and Social Theory,( Hart Publishing, 2002) 
Bottomley, A. and Conaghan J. (eds), Feminist Theory and Legal Strategy, (Blackwell Publishers, 1993). 
Frankenberg, G, Comparative Law as Critique (E Elgar, 2016)

Feely, M. and Rubin, E,  Judicial Policymaking and the Modern State (Cambridge University Press, 2001) 
Fineman M. and Thomadsen, N. (eds), At the Boundaries of Law (Routledge, 1991) 
Kunz et al., The Process of Legal Research, (Aspen, 2000) 
Harlow, C. and Rawlings, R., Pressure Through Law (Routledge, 1992) 
Hart, H.L, The Concept of Law, ( Clarendon Press, 1961) 
Merry, S., . ‘Global Human Rights and Local Social Movements in a Legally Plural World’ (1997) Canadian Journal of Law and Society 12(2): 247-271. 
O'Donovan, K,  Sexual Divisions in Law (Weidenfeld, 1985) 
Robertson S., ‘Searching for Anglo-American Digital Legal History’ (2016) Law and History Review 34(4): 1047-69

Smart, C., Feminism and the Power of Law (Routledge, 1989) 
Snyder, F., ‘Governing Economic Globalisation: Global Legal Pluralism and European Law’ (1999) European Law Journal 5(4): 334-374 
Stychin, C. Legal Methods (Sweet and Maxwell, 1999) 
Tamanaha, B., A General Jurisprudence of Law and Society, (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Teubner, G,  Juridification of Social Spheres (De Gruyter, 1987 ) 
Thomas, P. (ed), Socio Legal Studies (Aldershot1997) 
Twining W., Legal Theory and Common Law (Blackwell, 1986) 
Wickham, G. and Pavlich, G., Rethinking Law Society and Governance: Foucault's Bequest (Hart, 2002). 
Yilmaz, I. ,’The Challenge of Post-Modern Legality and Muslim Legal Pluralism in England’ (2002) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 28(2):343-354.

Key words search

Approaches, Research, Law

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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