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Disputing Deconstructed


Admission requirements

This course is open to students enrolled in the Master Law and Society.


Although the term ‘alternative dispute resolution’ suggests that courts are the primary site of dispute resolution, in fact they never are. If disputes reach the court at all, they have almost always gone through long trajectories before – most disputes have either been resolved much earlier along the way or they have been ‘lumped’.

This module looks at the different trajectories disputes may go through, the options citizens have in trying to settle them, the choices they make, and the formal and informal fora for dispute settlement that are available. Particular attention will be paid to the different social contexts in which citizens operate and how these influence the choices they make. Students will also learn about the importance for the state to exercise control over dispute resolution and the role courts play in this. State courts often have to compete with non-state institutions for dispute settlement. Control over dispute resolution is not only a way for the state to bolster its legitimacy by resolving those disputes that cannot be resolved locally, but also a way to determine which rules are enforced in dispute resolution. This is an important key to controlling social relations and/or practices, but quite complicated in countries where a sizeable proportion of disputes is processed in non-state ‘courts’ or dispute settlement institutions.

At the end of the course students will write an assessment about a legal field in a particular country with the objective to determine whether the types of dispute resolution in place are effective and where interventions would be possible.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course

At the end of this course, students are able to:

  • explain how and why disputes emerge and transform, starting from a perceived injustice or a clash of interests between two or more parties into more complex forms;

  • explain why people enter into different processes of dispute resolution and what the characteristics of these processes are;

  • explain how and why different authorities compete over the power to decide disputes, and what the special position of state courts is in this matter;

  • explain how dispute resolvers try to maintain their legitimacy;

  • explain how disputes are resolved at different levels in plural and multilayered normative orders, how people navigate these different orders;

  • explain what ‘access to justice’ is (including its complexities);

  • explain what ‘alternative dispute resolution’ is;

  • explain to what kinds of factors influence judicial decision-making;

  • select the relevant features of particular disputes (cases) in order to determine what forms of dispute resolution are likely to be effective in terms of ending these dispute in a fair and legitimate manner (or finding that this is impossible);

  • write critical notes about research conducted by scholars (in the response papers);

  • present the main insights of articles read for the course and provide critical reflections on them, both orally and in writing, to a peer audience and the instructor;

  • present own research results in a clear and comprehensible manner to an audience of peers and professionals from the field of rule of law co-operation;

  • ask critical questions in a respectful manner in response to presentations by their classmates;

  • incorporate feedback and comments on written assignments in future writings;

  • use legal texts for the analysis of dispute resolution mechanisms and assess their strengths/weaknesses;

  • ask critical questions during lectures, both invited and uninvited.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Name of lecturer: Adriaan Bedner and Dr. Matthew Canfield

  • Required preparation by students: reading assigned literature and preparing reflection papers.


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Name of instructor: Adriaan Bedner and Dr. Matthew Canfield

  • Required preparation by students: reading assigned literature, preparing presentation of article and presentation of case study.

All students are required to attend and actively participate during lectures and seminars.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Evaluation is based on a presentation of an article (25%), a final case study (50%), and a presentation of the case study (25%).

  • Students who fail the course can do a retake of the final essay, on the condition they have partaken in all examination forms.

  • Grades remain valid for the academic year in which they were attained.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials


  • All information and reading materials will be distributed via Brightspace.


Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: Adriaan Bedner

  • Work address: KOG (Steenschuur 25 Leiden), room A1.56

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 5277252

  • Email:


  • Institute: The Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance & Society

  • Room number secretary: KOG (Steenschuur 25 Leiden), room B1.14

  • Opening hours: Monday till Thursday and Friday morning

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0)71 527 7260

  • Email:


In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.