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Study information

Law, Politics and Power

Module titleLaw, Politics and Power
Module codeLAW3186
Academic year2023/4
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 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 critical and theoretical perspectives. Drawing on the teaching team’s research expertise, the module aims to enable you to develop your own critical, research-based perspectives and to provide you with unique interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Focusing on the development of independent student research skills and the use of critical thinking to challenge assumptions, the module aims to give you the opportunity 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 law, using a wide range of appropriate concepts, interpretative techniques and terminology
  • 2. Research a legal question independently and demonstrate competence in applying relevant theories selectively and critically in order to formulate and evaluate a response to it
  • 3. Demonstrate detailed and accurate understanding of some of the relevant social, economic, political, historical and legal contexts within which theories and ideologies of the state and law 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 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 some or all 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.

  • Classical liberalism and the social contract, the emergence of democracy and the nature of 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 state systems built on and adapted them.
  • The emergence of Fascism in Italy after the First World War (1914-1918), the rise of the Fascist state, the development of Fascist ideology, and the question of a wider concept of ‘generic fascism’.
  • 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, the question of Nazi ideology, and the ongoing debate about the nature of ‘Nazi law’.

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 activities2211 x 2 hour lectures / large group activities
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities4.53 x 1.5 hour workshops
Guided independent study444 hours reading before and/or after each lecture
Guided independent study186 hours reading before and/or after each workshop
Guided independent study61.5Reading, revision and preparation of assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short essay comprising two parts: (1) a 1,000-word essay and (2) a 250-word reflective commentary1,250 words in total1-7Individual written feedback; 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
Essay comprising two parts: (1) a 2,000-word essay and (2) a 500-word reflective commentary1002,500 words in total1-7Individual written feedback; 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 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 re-assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic 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)
  • K Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014)
  • R O Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (2004)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Key words search

Law, politics, power, state, theory, ideology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date