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Law and Culture


Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in law, social sciences (anthropology, sociology of development, public administration), and humanities (history, area studies, arts). Non-law students should be willing to acquire a basic understanding of legal scholarship, whereas law students should be willing to engage in subjects beyond the rules of black letter law. For this course a sufficient command of English is required (IELTS 6.5 or higher).


This course explores the relationship between law and culture and looks into two fundamental questions in socio-legal studies: How does culture affect the production of laws and the functioning of legal institutions? And how do laws and legal institutions affect culture and people's behavior - These questions become increasingly relevant through globalisation, a perceived 'clash of civilizations', and the problems of an effectively multicultural society. How should criminal law deal with the cultural background of those who have committed a crime? Is law itself a ‘codification’ of cultural norms and values, or can law be used to change culture? To what extent can law facilitate multiculturalism?

The course combines legal with sociological/anthropological perspectives and uses a comparative approach, looking at topics across different states and societies. It will use ‘real life’ cases to clarify the theoretical issues raised, taken from a variety of countries across the globe.

Students are expected to prepare well and participate actively in the classes, which combine lecturing, presentations, and discussions.

Course objectives

Objective(s) of the course
After having taken this course students will understand the main distinctions between legal and socio-scientific approaches to social problems and disputes. They will have become familiar with the answers to the question how law and culture are related one to the other. This will enable them to better understand and participate in debates about rule of law, human rights, and cultural defence, both orally and in writing

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

  • Student is able to give the anthropological definition of culture and explain critiques of the culture concept.

  • Student is able to give arguments for and against the different ways modern legal systems deal with cultural and religious difference and can use examples to substantiate his/her argument.

  • Student is able to differentiate between different understandings of the relationship between law, culture and society and to draw on these understandings in his/her own work.

  • Student is able to differentiate between socio-legal approaches and other approaches to law, can apply the socio-legal lens, and can distinguish between different theoretical approaches within the field of socio-legal studies (in particular with reference to culture).

  • Student is able to explain the concept of legal pluralism and to explain different conceptions of what law is.


Available on the website.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 12

  • Name(s) of lecturer(s): Dr. M.C. Canfield

  • Required preparation by students: reading of two academic articles before each session.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (85%)

  • 1 reaction paper (15%)

If the overall grade is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the written exam. If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, the scores on the assignments and the exam are no longer valid.

Submission procedures
Will be announced on Brightspace.

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

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Reader

Course information guide:


  • Reader will be made available via Brightspace.

Recommended course materials


Students have to register for this course in uSis.
Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.

Contact information