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Discrimination in Law and Society: External Perspectives on Law


Admission requirements

Students are expected to be in their third year of legal studies or of other disciplines, like e.g. philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, or economics.


Discrimination in law and society:
Discrimination of people on the ground of their ethnic origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disablement is a serious problem in most societies around the world. After the atrocities committed during World War II, there was a strong consensus in the international community to prohibit all forms of social, economic and cultural exclusion, harassment, stereotyping, and hate speech on such grounds. The norms of equal treatment and non-discrimination were laid down in a great number of international and regional treaties. These norms have also been incorporated in numerous constitutions and civil and criminal laws on the national level. A question, often neglected by lawyers, is whether such provisions do have any positive effects in society. Does anti-discrimination law indeed contribute to putting an end to discriminatory traditions, customs, ideas and practices? In order to answer that question, we need to have a better understanding of / more knowledge about what discrimination is, why it happens in society and what effects it has on people. These are the questions that will be addressed in this course: What insights can other academic disciplines (like sociology, anthropology, psychology and social-psychology) offer us about the causes and consequences of discrimination? What does this mean for the possible effectiveness of legal norms and procedures that are aimed at combating discrimination? Guest lecturers will present outcomes of their research projects in class. A psychologist will explain the brain mechanisms that cause implicit bias and stereotyping; a sociologist will discuss the exclusionary effects of vague job descriptions; a criminologist will discuss the mechanisms behind ethnic profiling by the police; and a linguist will demonstrate the different ways in which TV-reporters describe the performances of colored and white football players. After each presentation, the participants of the course will be asked to answer the question whether existing legal norms and procedures can offer an adequate response to the forms of discrimination that are described and explained in these studies. Do legal norms that aim to combat discrimination reflect how discrimination ‘works’ in social reality? Do they respond to actual needs of victims of discrimination? Are legal procedures designed in such a way that victims can have access to justice? In sum: can anti-discrimination law contribute to eliminate discrimination, as suggested by the titles of some of the main international instruments in this area?

Internal and external perspectives on law:
Students of law learn to see law as a coherent and rational system of rules that is based on important legal principles, like e.g. proportionality, predictability, objectivity and clarity. They learn to solve a legal problem in a systematic way. The criteria to answer a question like whether a particular rule or practice is a form of discrimination that is legally prohibited stem from the legal system itself. The study of law, in other words, is ‘doctrinal’ and takes place within the borders of existing legal normative parameters. It is possible to study anti-discrimination law in that way. (For that purpose, you could for example participate in the Course European Non-Discrimination Law, which is also taught at this Faculty.) In contrast to such an internal perspective on existing positive law, in this course we will present some external perspectives on the adequacy of legal norms and procedures. The course is also interesting for students from other disciplines: they will get an understanding of the functioning of one particular field of law. Students from different disciplines will write papers together in pairs.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
The aim of this course is to familiarize law students with external perspectives on law and thus widen their horizon beyond the pure doctrinal study of law. Students will get insight in what the contribution of other academic disciplines may be for a better functioning of legal norms and procedures. Students from other disciplines will get insight in discrimination and the way the law responds to this phenomenon.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • You will understand the relevance and the added value of research done in other academic disciplines for the study of the effectiveness of legal norms and procedures.

  • You will be familiarized with research methods and results in the area of social studies.

  • You will have gained skills in assembling information on- and analyzing relevant legal norms and procedures in the area of non-discrimination law and evaluate their added value in the light of knowledge about actual discriminatory practices and processes in society.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Names of lecturers: Prof. Holtmaat and guest lecturers from various social science disciplines

  • Required preparation by students: Students will read relevant articles in academic journals. Students need to submit a short summary of the materials before the lecture, including the main questions that they want to ask during the lecture.


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Names of instructors: Prof. Holtmaat

  • Required preparation by students: Doing research and writing papers on the basis of the reading materials for the lecture and seminar. Each student has to do one oral presentation during a seminar.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written essay exam, open questions (90% of final grade).

  • Weekly assignments (10% of final grade): 1 full point of the final grade can be earned by means of successfully completing 4 out of 5 weekly assignments.

In case only a few of you need to do the exam or the retake, the exam and/or the retake may be oral. In that case, you will be informed 10 days ahead of the scheduled date.

Submission procedures
Via Blackboard

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature and case law) for the course, the course information guide and the content of the lectures, seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials
Selected academic articles on from various disciplines, describing the causes and consequences of discrimination.

Course information guide:
Will be made available on Blackboard.

All reading materials will be placed on Blackboard.


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.
Students enrolled at another Dutch university than Leiden can obtain access to uSis, by first submitting the form Inschrijven als bijvak/gaststudent (unfortunately only available in Dutch).
Students not enrolled at any Dutch university (i.e. those doing the course as a Study Abroad Student (info in English), or as Contractonderwijs (info only in Dutch) should apply well in advance.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: Prof. Rikki Holtmaat

  • Work address: KOG, room B.1.28

  • Contact information: Secretariat of the Europa Institute: Ms Wendy Rodger

  • Telephone number: 003171 527 7740 / 8837

  • Email:


  • Institute: Public Law

  • Department: European Law

  • Room number secretary: B.1.21

  • Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9 AM to 5 PM

  • Telephone number secretary: 003171 527 8837

  • Email: Ms Wendy Rodger:


The language of this course is English.


Belangstellenden die deze cursus in het kader van contractonderwijs willen volgen (met tentamen), kunnen meer informatie vinden over kosten, inschrijving, voorwaarden, etc. op de website van Juridisch PAO.