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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, migration, and the frictions of multiculturaism. Building on theories and experiences from both the Global North and South, students will consider the relationship between law, power, and culture. 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 come prepared to participate actively in the classes, which combine lecturing, presentations, writing assignments, 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. Students will practice writing and analysis skills via several practical assignments.

Achievement levels
After successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe the anthropological concept of culture and and deploy it to analyze the relationship between law and power;

  • Distinguish and evaluate competing conceptual and methodological approaches to the cultural study of law, including legal pluralism;
    -Analyze the challenges of cultural recognition through law using examples from different global contexts.


Check MyTimetable.

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 (100%)

  • During the course, students will carry out two formative (practical) assignments. Students must submit both to register for the exam.

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.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. and further of the Course and Examination Regulations) on the condition that this course is not part of the minor. Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. To retake a passed exam, students need to ask the Student Administration Office (OIC) for permission. For more information, go to 'course and exam enrollment' > 'permission for retaking a passed exam' on the student website.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Reader

Course information guide:


  • Reader will be made available via Brightspace.

Recommended course materials


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

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

  • Coordinator: Dr. M.C. Canfield

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Email:


  • Institute: Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (VVI)

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B1.14

  • 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.