Anthropology of law

Course content

”Law is everywhere and so are legal anthropologists” concluded the American anthropologist Sally Engle Merry in 2017 - thereby opening up new questions concerning the various forms that law takes in contemporary society and the ways in which anthropologists today can study the social life of law. Such questions will be explored during this course, which provides undergraduate and graduate students an introduction into anthropology of law. We will study changing conceptions of law and governance and ask ourselves how anthropologist can address law as an analytical object or as an essential element in the contexts that we work in. We will read classic as well as contemporary texts within the fields of legal anthropology and anthropology of human rights. The course discusses a range of empirical examples and discusses methods useful for capturing the social dimensions of law in fieldwork settings. Some of the questions that we will ask ourselves during the course are: “How are relationships between legal and political realms structured and with what consequences? How do notions of legality, illegality and semi-legality influence everyday lives on the ground? What happens when transnational human rights concepts are localized at community levels? What does anthropology bring to research on these issues?”


The teaching in spring 2021 will be online until the 1. of April due to the Covid19 situation.

As soon as it is permitted and justifiable, it is up to the individual lecturer whether to transition to a blended format or wish to continue with full online teaching for the rest of the semester.

The individual lecturer will inform you of the above choice in the Absalon room for each course.

Courses with oral exams will be held online if the relevant restrictions have not been lifted at least four weeks before the individual exam. This will be notified in Absalon.

Courses with written exams will not experience any changes in relation to the normal exam form.

Learning outcome

Learning outcomes:

At the end of the course, students are expected to be able to:


Skills: Give account of classic and contemporary anthropological approaches to the study of law in society.

Knowledge: Demonstrate an understanding of central theoretical concepts and debates within the field of legal anthropology

Competences: Formulate a research question of relevance to the field of legal anthropology and discuss this question in a critical analysis in a final essay.

The course will consist of lectures as well as group work. Active participation is required throughout the course in form of student assignments and presentations. The course will include a few guest presentations and field visits to legal institutions.

BSc students and MSc students: 500 pages obligatory literature.

The teacher will publish 200-300 pages of supplementary literature.

Course literature will be available through Absalon.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

The students will be organized in feedback groups, where part of the learning will be to receive feedback from fellow classmates.

In addition, the students will receive general feedback in class twice during the course as a general response to the written assignments. The groups will also receive feedback on their oral presentations.

Finally, each student will receive written feedback when being graded for the exam.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Length: min. 21,600 - max. 26,400 strokes for an individually written essay. For a group: min 6,750 - max. 8,250 strokes per additional group member. A maximum of four members per group is allowed.
For groups writing together it must be clearly indicated which parts of the assignment each of the students has written.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 7
  • Preparation
  • 117
  • Exercises
  • 12
  • Seminar
  • 21
  • Study Groups
  • 10
  • Exam
  • 40
  • English
  • 207