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Study information

Law, Politics and Power

Module titleLaw, Politics and Power
Module codeLAW3155
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Stephen Skinner (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module is about the ways in which the relationships between law, politics and the power of the state have been justified theoretically and developed in practice in different sorts of system over time. The module gives you the opportunity to learn about law and the state from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries, including classical liberal theories of the social contract, the emergence of modern democracy and liberal democracy from the 1800s to today, and the ways in which the ideologies and practices of communist, fascist and National Socialist systems envisaged and implemented their own versions of the state and law during the twentieth century. The module will examine the foundations and purposes of the ‘rule of law’, how it differs from ‘rule by law’, and and the extent to which key attributes of liberal democracy and anti-democratic systems can be understood in relation to each other. This module is designed to give you the opportunity to explore the nature and role of law and its relationships with politics in different conceptions of society, to question your assumptions about law as an instrument of government, and to develop your own critical understanding of law as the product of particular socio-political, theoretical and historical contexts.

The module is suitable for both law and non-law students. You do not require any particular background in law, politics or related theoretical disciplines and the module will enable you to build on the knowledge you have acquired in your studies so far. As such, the module is suitable for students from a range of backgrounds and will be particularly useful for you if you are interested in developing a theoretical, historical and interdisciplinary approach to your studies. This is a module for self-motivating students who enjoy the challenge of reading and participating in discussions.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of the module is to give you the opportunity to question the nature of law and its place in society through active discussion of a range of historical and theoretical perspectives. Drawing on the teaching team’s research expertise, the module aims to enable you to develop your own critical, research-based interpretations and to provide you with unique interdisciplinary learning opportunities that stimulate reflection and discussion. Focusing on the development of your independent research skills and critical thinking, the module aims to give you the chance to develop capacities that are particularly valued by employers.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. demonstrate a thorough and critical knowledge and understanding of various theories and ideologies of the state and lawthe connections between law, politics and state power, using a wide range of appropriate theories and concepts, historical and current examples, and interpretative techniques and terminology;
  • 2. research a legal question independently and demonstrate competence in applyingusing relevant theories and examples selectively and critically in order to formulate and evaluate a response to it;
  • 3. demonstrate detailed and accurate understanding of some of the relevant legal, social, economic, political, historical, philosophical, and legalcultural contexts within which theories and ideologies of the state and law, politics and the state have been developed and operate.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. make an independent and effective critical judgement about the merits and relevance of particular information and make reasoned choices between alternative solutions or arguments;
  • 5. communicate technical legal information and argument effectively, concisely and reflectively, orally and in writing, in an appropriate manner and in task-specific ways.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. identify, retrieve and use, independently and efficiently, a range of appropriate resources with minimum guidance;
  • 7. manage time independently and efficiently in preparing for learning activities, to be proactive in developing own learning, and to work independently within a limited time frame to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics. Your study will be focused on, and organized around, key linking questions and problems, in order to support continuity and cohesive coverage.

- Introduction to the module: working with legal and political theories; working with legal and political history; key terminology and skills; understanding descriptive and normative approaches; developing critical thinking; developing and expressing an informed opinion.

Module topics:

- Classical liberalism and the social contract, the emergence of democracy and modern liberal democracy, from the 1600s to today

- The theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 1800s and the ways in which the subsequent theory and practice of communist systems built on and adapted them

- The emergence of fascism in Italy after the First World War (1914-1918), the rise of the Italian fascist state, the development of Italian fascist ideology and fascism in practice

- The emergence of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany after the First World War, the end of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi state, Nazi ideology and the ongoing debate about the nature of Nazi law

- Theoretical models of fascism and comparing fascist and other sorts of authoritarian state systems

- Questions of law, history and memory, transitions between types of state system, and the debate about shadows of the undemocratic past on law and politics today

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 & Teaching activities441 x 2 hour lecture per week for 11 weeks in term 1 and 11 weeks in term 2.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity10.57 x 1.5 hour workshops (1 on the introduction plus 1 per topic cycle, making a total of 4 in term 1 and 3 in term 2)
Guided Independent study693 hours reading before and/or after each 2 hour lecture
Guided Independent Study284 hours reading before and after each workshop
Guided Independent study148.5Reading, revision and preparation for assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short eEssay comprising two parts: (1) a 1,000 word essay and (2) a 250 word reflective commentary1,250 words1-7Written comments; oral feedback available on request
Examination (take-home, open book) 2 hours1-7Sample exam paper with self-marking material and guidance made available on ELE; further guidance from tutor available on 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
Essay comprising two parts: (1) a 2,000-word essay and (2) a 500-word reflective commentary502,500 words in total1-7Written feedback; additional oral feedback available on request
Examination (take-home, open book) 502 hours intended duration (within a 24-hour submission window) 1-7Written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay comprising two parts: (1) a 2,000-word essay and (2) a 500-word reflective commentaryEssay comprising two parts: (1) a 2,000-word essay and (2) a 500-word reflective commentary (2,500 words in total)1-7August/September reassessment period
Examination (take-home, open book)Examination (take-home, open book; same as above)1-7August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

NB This is not a required reading list – required readings for each topic cycle will be indicated on ELE.


General background reading:

J Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (OUP, 2016)

D Held, ‘Central Perspectives on the Modern State’, Ch 2 in G McLennan, D Held and S Hall, The Idea of the Modern State (1984)

J Hoffman and P Graham, Introduction to Political Theory (2015) Ch 5 ‘Democracy’

B Tamanaha, On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory (2004)

B Crick, Democracy: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2002)

L Holmes, Communism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2009)

H Collins, Marxism and Law (1982)

K Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014)

R O Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (2004)

A Rocco, ‘The Political Doctrine of Fascism’ (1926) International Conciliation pp.393-415

M Stolleis, ‘European Twentieth-Century Dictatorship and the Law’ in Part VI of Heikki Pihlajamäki, M D Dubber, and M Godfrey (eds), The Oxford Handbook of European Legal History (2018)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources including video clips and audio material will be provided on ELE.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Lecture/ topic outlines, reading lists, further URL links and other material will be provided on ELE.


Key words search

Law, politics, power, theory, critical

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date