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Legal Systems Worldwide: Law and Culture


Admission requirements

The prerequisite is a 100-level course in Global Justice or International Development. This course grants access to 300-level courses in those same majors.


This course explores the relation between law and culture – a topic that through globalisation, a perceived ‘clash of civilizations’, and the problems of increasingly multicultural societies has become quite prominent. The course will start with a discussion of different definitions of law and culture, before turning to the question of how modern law deals with cultural difference. This includes examining cultural defences in criminal law, how judges understand litigants from their own cultural frame of reference, the recognition of indigenous rights, and the relation between human rights and culture.
The second part of the course approaches law as a cultural phenomenon. A first question for discussion is whether all human societies have law or that law is something typical of modern states. Next, we will look at the prominent idea that law is a ‘mirror’ of society and consists of a ‘codification’ of cultural norms and values, where others by contrast argue that law is a powerful instrument to change culture. Or is law an instrument serving other goals, such as protecting the interests of elites?
Finally, we will look at the concept of legal culture, referring to the ideas people in a particular society have about law and how they use it. Legal culture may be a helpful concept in explaining for instance why Japanese and Indonesians tend to settle their disputes outside the court, whereas in the US citizens seem to resort to litigation for the most trivial matters. Looking more in depth at such issues will reveal that the answers to such questions are not as stereotypical as often assumed.
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, including many taken from developing countries.

Course objectives

The course objectives are the following:

  • to gain an understanding of different concepts of law and culture and how the two relate;

  • to acquire knowledge of how modern legal systems deal with cultural issues and to understand what the pros and cons of various such approaches are;

  • to get an insight into some basic skills of legal reasoning and to learn how to apply them;

  • to gain an understanding of the different ways in which law can influence society and the other way round.


Please see the LUC website:

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including lecturing, student presentations, case resolving, class discussion and more ‘ formal’ debate.

Assessment method

  1. Developing verbal presentation and argumentation skills: assessed through Group presentations and in-class participation, including debates (30% of final grade): Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7
  2. Individual engagement with course readings: assessed through 3 short reaction papers to week’s readings (350-500 words each;10% of final grade): Accepted until one day before readings are discussed in class
  3. Understanding of and engaging with course content: assessed in Final essay
    (1500-2000 words; 20% of final grade):Week 7, subject to be determined week 5
  4. Understanding of course content: assessed in final written examination (40% of final grade): Week 8


This course is supported by a blackboard site.

Reading list

The required and recommended reading will be listed in the course syllabus and will be made available on blackboard. For some of the assessments students will have to do their own literature search.


This course is only open for LUC The Hague students.

Contact information

Weekly Overview

Week 1
Introduction: law, culture, legal pluralism, disciplinary approaches

Week 2
Culture in the courtroom I : the cultural defence in criminal law cases

Week 3
Culture in the courtroom II : cultural influence on judicial decisionmaking
Human rights: universal or expression of cultural values?

Week 4
Recognition of cultural rights
Changing culture through law

Week 5
Law as a mirror of society

Week 6
The rule of law as a universal good?

Legal culture

Preparation for first session

Students are supposed to have prepared the readings and questions announced on Blackboard for the 1st class.