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Professor David Cowan

Professor David Cowan

Professor David Cowan

Professor of Law and Policy

Office 3.45
Wills Memorial Building,
Queens Road, Clifton BS8 1RJ
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 954 5224


Housing; Regulation; Government


Dave Cowan studied law at Southampton, graduating in 1989. He worked as a Research Assistant at the Law Commission (1990-1991), before becoming a Lecturer at Southampton University (1991-1993); Sussex University (1993-1995); and then Bristol University (1995-) where he has been Professor of Law and Policy since 2003.  He teaches Property Law and optional units, Housing Law and Policy and Rich Law, Poor Law.  He is Director of the MSc (Socio-Legal studies) programme.  Dave's research is mostly socio-legal, and focuses on social theory and the housing system(s). His most recent book, with Helen Carr and Alison Wallace, is Ownership, Narrative, Things which develops an ethnographically oriented approach to the appreciation of property, ownership and tenure (Palgrave Socio-Legal Series, 2018). 

His other books include Homelessness: The (In)Appropriate Applicant (Dartmouth, 1997), Housing Law and Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2011), as well as co-authored books, The Appeal of Internal Review (Hart, 2003), Regulating Social Housing: Governing Decline (Glasshouse, 2005), and Great Debates in Land Law (Palgrave MacMillian, 2012, 2nd ed 2016). He is co-editor of a collection of essays, Exploring the Legal (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015, with Dan Wincott), which develops an argument about the uses of legality.  His more recent work engages with modern histories of housing policy.

His current project is about continuous cruising barges, which has been generously supported by a small grant from the UK Socio-Legal Studies Association.  He is interested in this context in their regulation and governance, as well as the way in which home is made and unmade.

Dave has been successful in obtaining funding for his research.  His most recent project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, concerned shared ownership.  He has previously conducted and managed research funded by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Nuffield Foundation, ESRC, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

He was Vice-Chair of the Socio-Legal Studies Association from 2001-2003, and a member of the Civil Justice Council's Housing and Land Sub-Committee from 2000-2004. Dave was a Visiting Academic Consultant at the Law Commission, 2005-2007, working on projects concerning housing adjudication and compliance. He is currently a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Law and Society and an editor of Social and Legal Studies.  He is also the series editor of the Palgrave MacMillan Socio-Legal Series.


Dave teaches Land Law; Rich Law, Poor law; Housing Law and Policy, Socio-Legal Studies; and Advanced Legal and Socio-Legal Research Methods.


  • Housing
  • Property
  • Socio-Legal Studies
  • Social Policy


  • Socio-Legal Studies Association
  • Law and Society Association
  • Society of Legal Scholars
  • Middle Temple.

Selected publications

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Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Dave collaborates with academic colleagues across the socio-legal community.


Professor Cowan currently teaches 5 courses:

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