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Elective: Current Issues in Law and Society


Admission requirements

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


Punishment, Governance, Society
This course studies the global role of punishment in the legitimation and operationalization of political regimes and state practices. We will seek to understand how states across the world use penal practices, broadly defined and including extralegal sanctions, to bolster their legitimacy, authority, and political programs. We will consider cases of global developments in modern neoliberal penality and ask what these changes mean for traditional liberal legal values including autonomy, due process, and the equality of law. To address these problems, our class will begin by considering two foundational questions: what is punishment/penality, and how have modern legal conceptions of punishment historically developed? We will then use this foundation to analyze cases of punishment and politics in South Africa, the Netherlands, the United States, and India. These settings invite a comparative discussion of punishment and politics across postcolonial, neoliberal, and social welfare state contexts.

Course objectives

After completing the course, students will be able to

  • critically compare and contrast the political economy of punishment in different contexts;

  • understand the historical development of penal systems and its relationship to the role of punishment in contemporary global politics;

  • apply theoretical frameworks for interpreting and explaining penality to specific policy reforms and proposed changes.


The timetable of this course can be found here.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Names of lecturer: Chase Burton

  • Required preparation by students: completion of assigned reading.


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 4

  • Names of instructor: Chase Burton

  • Required preparation by students: completion of assigned reading and reflection on participation questions.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • This course a research paper (40%), a reflection paper (10%), and a final paper (50%).

  • Partial grades can be compensated.

  • Students who fail the course can do a retake of the research paper and the final paper.

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

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

Submission procedures
To be announced.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Course materials will be posted on Brightspace.

  • If you’re keen to get started, some optional books providing important ideas for our class to draw on: David Garland, Punishment and Modern Society; Jean and John Comaroff, The Truth About Crime, Michel Foucault, The Punitive Society.


Students have to register for the lectures and working groups through uSis. With this registration you have access to the digital learning environment of this course in Brightspace. You may register up to 5 calendar days before the first teaching session begins.

Students have to register for exams and retakes through uSis. With this registration you also have access to the digital learning environment of this course in Brightspace You may register up to 10 calendar days before the exam or retake.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: Chase Burton

  • Work address: KOG, A1.57

  • Contact information: via secretariat, Ms Kari van Weeren

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 7493

  • Email:


  • Institute: Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute

  • Room number secretary: KOG room B1.14

  • Opening hours: Monday till Thursday and Friday morning

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

  • Email: