Programme Director: Professor Tony Prosser
For further information please contact Stephanie Dimberline, Postgraduate Senior Admissions Administrator.
The Socio-Legal Studies programme offers a range of units, suitable for graduates from a very wide range of disciplines (including Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Law), who have an interest in the way law works in society. The programme of study is interdisciplinary. Students take a core of three compulsory units from Sociology, two further compulsory courses from Law tailored specifically for socio-legal students without law backgrounds, and an optional subject that can be taken almost anywhere in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law (and even beyond in Social Anthropology). A dissertation completes the programme.
The programme aims to develop students' knowledge and understanding of, and interest in, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of law and legal phenomena. The programme provides a sound research training for students wishing to proceed to PhD study or to a career in socio-legal research through the study of different research methodologies across the social sciences and law. During the programme, students will pursue independent, in-depth study in socio-legal studies, engaging in lively debates in a thriving research culture across social sciences and law.
This programme is offered as part of the South West Doctoral Training Centre accredited by the Economic and Social Research Council, which offers 1+3 studentships (i.e. 4 year postgraduate scholarships to pursue the MSc followed by a PhD). These scholarships are open only to citizens of the European Union.
It is important to note that applications for ESRC awards are due by 14 February 2013, but that applications to the MSc programme only will be accepted up to the end of July 2013.
Applications from students interested in pursuing research in all areas are welcome. We particularly encourage applications in the following research areas, listed below with the staff member most likely to supervise:
There is no generally accepted definition of socio-legal studies and the perception of what it might include has changed over time. For the Research Assessment Exercise in 2001, the Chair of the Socio-Legal Studies Association developed this definition which captures its essence: 'The socio-legal community represents a 'broad church' and this is an aspect of the association which we have always cherished. Our members undertake library based theoretical work, empirical work which leads to the development of grounded theory, as well as more policy orientated studies which feeds directly into the policy making process. What binds the socio-legal community is an approach to the study of legal phenomena which is multi or inter-disciplinary in its approach. Our theoretical perspectives and methodologies are informed by research undertaken in many other disciplines. Traditionally socio-legal scholars have bridged the divide between law and sociology, social policy, and economics. But there is increasing interest in law and disciplines within the field of humanities.'
The work of socio-legal scholars covers a vast range of different subject areas and methods. It generally goes beyond what is loosely framed as 'law in context' type work. Those working within the socio-legal tradition at Bristol, draw from traditions as diverse as the sociology of law, cultural studies of law, studies of law in action, contextual legal studies, law and politics and studies of governance. They have also collaborated with people working in law and anthropology, and law and economics. In terms of substantive focus, they work within specific areas that broadly stretch from the local to the national to the European to the global. You can find out more about how socio-legal studies is understood at Bristol from the Socio-Legal Studies research pages.
Socio-legal scholarship has both academic and policy relevance. Law has long been an important part of theories about order and change in society in philosophy, sociology, anthropology and politics. On a more practical level, the Nuffield Foundation and the ESRC have both stated a desire to build greater capacity in the socio-legal field, creating a positive environment for funding and career paths in this field.
Many socio-legal researchers conduct research without any particular specialist training beyond their first degree. In doing so, they miss out on the depth and breadth of the subject, its theoretical foundations, and may also make some elementary errors in their research design. There is currently real concern in the policy and academic communities about the lack of socio-legal researchers both at the early and later stages of their careers. The purpose of the MSc is to train the quality socio-legal researchers of the future. We welcome applications from anyone with an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, in any discipline associated with socio-legal studies. First degrees can be in Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, or Law. Students with less than this minimum requirement will be considered provided that they can provide appropriate evidence of academic ability. A law degree is not an essential requirement. Students will be given training in certain legal skills during the programme.
To obtain an MSc in Socio-Legal Studies, students must complete the following.
Students must complete three compulsory units in the Department of Sociology (20 credit points each; pass mark 60%).
Students must complete two compulsory units in the School of Law (20 credit points each; pass mark 60%).
Students must complet one optional unit up to a value of 30 credit points from the Schools of Law, Policy Studies and Human Geography (the MA in Society and Space), or from the Departments of Sociology, Politics, or Anthropology (MA in Social Anthropology) subject to availability. The pass mark for these units is either 50% (School of Law) or 60% (all others) and the number of credit points varies according to the department.
Students must complete a dissertation of 10-15,000 words on any topic of socio-legal studies (60 credit points; pass mark 50%)
To find out more specific information about the programme, see:
Students take five compulsory units which account for 100 credit points of the MSc. The following units are compulsory on the MSc in Socio-Legal Studies programme:
The purpose of this unit is to extend students' grasp of sociological and socio-political theory by focusing on the philosophical dimension of social science understanding and debate. Very often, arguments about the merit and validity of various perspectives in social theory involve claims about their underlying assumptions concerning the nature of human action, social being, and legitimate knowledge. The philosophy of social science involves being explicit about these general conceptions, and analysing how they interact with the other dimensions of social science practice - substantive theory, research methodology, and value commitments. The unit thus provides an overview of the major philosophical traditions and directions in the 'meta-theory' of the social sciences, illustrating these in relation to the kind of theoretical positions, research problems, and political antagonisms that are familiar to postgraduates in the social sciences. Indicative content: Positivism and post-positivism, interpretation and hermeneutics, critical theory, critical scientific realism, constructionism and reflexivity, standpoint epistemology, post-structuralism and postmodernism, pragmatism, complexity theory.
Social researchers have a wide variety of methods available to them in order to conduct empirical study, ranging from the unobstrusive to the invasive. This unit presents research as an on-going process consisting of many interlocking stages and offers a grounding in the rationale, strengths and limitations of a selection of key research methods used in contemporary social research. It outlines the epistemological context of alternative methodological approaches and then introduces students to a range of qualitative and quantitative techniques and methods of analysis. The importance of ethical considerations and reflexivity in undertaking social research is addressed, as is the growing relevance of information technology and question of how far research tools define the questions we can answer. Indicative content: research design; methods of data collection (interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, ethnography, life histories, official statistics, documents); integrating methods; data analysis; ethical and political considerations; research funding; reporting findings.
Quantitative Social Research is an introduction to using quantitative methods, issues/problems surrounding their use, research design for quantitative research and basic analysis techniques for quantitative data. It includes questionnaire design; official statistics; secondary data; sampling and problems of missing data; SPSS; descriptive statistics; cross-tabulations and 3-way tables; chi-square and measuring associations. Attached to this unit are further practical sessions on IT skills and the use of Excel, Powerpoint and advanced Word.
This unit will concentrate on advanced legal and, more specifically, socio-legal research methods. It will include: statutory interpretation and precedent; doctrinal legal methods (including library based research and case analysis); socio-legal methods (including examination of a range of methods and ethical issues drawn from diverse fields of socio-legal scholarship). The latter will include consideration of feminist scholarship, critical legal studies, biography, discourse analysis, postmodernism and will draw upon, for example, law and literary studies, history, economics and ethics. No prior knowledge of law or of sociology will be assumed, although the course will assume participation in the core research methods. More detailed applications of the methodological content will take place in options and the compulsory dissertation.
This unit will concentrate on substantive issues of sociology of law. It will examine both the role of law in the classical theorists of sociology, notably Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and more recent approaches, including Foucault, feminist work and post-modernism. The examination of its application to law will include both public and private law. No prior knowledge of law or of sociology will be assumed, although the course will assume participation in the core research methods and philosophy of social science courses alongside it. More detailed applications of the theoretical content will take place in the options and the compulsory dissertation.
Students take optional units up to a value of 30 credit points. There is considerable flexibility within the MSc programme as to the units which are available to students. Students can take optional units in the Schools of Law, Geographical Sciences, and Policy Studies as well as in the Departments of Sociology, Politics, and Anthropology. Units offered on the various programmes vary from year to year and the School does not guarantee that a unit offered in any particular year will run or will necessarily be available for students studying for the MSc. If it is important that a particular unit be available to you, please check with the Postgraduate Coordinator of the relevant department for any updates which may have occurred recently.
Credit points denote the weight attached to each of the units. As regards the taught part of the MSc, there is a relationship between contact time with a member of staff and credit point allocation.
Unit credit point weightings differ according to departments. Options offered by the MSc in Socio-legal Studies, and in Geographical Sciences, Policy Studies, Sociology, and Politics are all worth 20 credit points each. Options from the LLM programme are each worth 30 credit points. Options from the MA in Social Anthropology are worth either 15 or 30 credit points. MSc students will be able to take one 20 or 30 credit-point unit, or two 15-point units.
The following units illustrate the kind of optional units typically open to MSc students. LLM units run across the whole academic year but most other optional units run start only in January,with final availability (sometimes units do not run) and enrolment (some units have a maximum cap) confirmed in late November or early December. The list below is therefore indicative only: more definitive information will be available in the induction period just before term starts (early October)
The following subject to demand (at least six students):
The dissertation accounts for 60 credit points. It is a sustained piece of research of between 10-15,000 words. The dissertation should build upon the optional unit(s) and develop the approaches taken in the Compulsory units. In particular, students will be expected to be able to demonstrate an ability to frame a research question and use an appropriate methodology in response to that question. Students will be required to demonstrate an ability to organise discussion and select material; appropriate higher level knowledge and understanding of background literature together with higher order presentational skills.