MSc Socio-Legal Studies

A one year interdisciplinary Masters degree, suitable for graduates from a wide range of disciplines (including the Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Law) who have an interest in the way law works in society.

What is Socio-Legal Studies?

There is no generally accepted definition of socio-legal studies and the perception of what it might include has changed over time.

The Chair of the Socio-Legal Studies Association developed the following definition for the Research Assessment Exercise in 2001, 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.

Who is the MSc in Socio-Legal Studies for?

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.

What is the structure of the programme?

To obtain an MSc in Socio-Legal Studies, students must complete the following:

  • Five compulsory units
    Students must complete three compulsory units in the Department of Sociology (20 credit points each) and two compulsory units in the Law School (20 credit points each).
  • One optional unit
    Students must complete one optional unit up to a value of 30 credit points from the Schools of Law, Policy Studies or Sociology and Politics (subject to availability).
  • Dissertation
    Students must complete a dissertation of 10-15,000 words on any topic of socio-legal studies (60 credit points).

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 presentation skills.

You can read more about the units taught in MSc Socio-Legal Studies in the programme catalogue. Unit information includes intended learning outcomes, teaching details, and methods of assessment.

Student perspectives

MSc leading into PhD

Students interested in studying MSc Socio-Legal Studies have the opportunity of engaging in a further three years of doctoral research and attaining both MSc and PhD qualifications. Thus, students will study 1 year of initial MSc, and then a further 3 years PhD.

Progression into PhD is offered by the South West Doctoral Training Centre and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, whom together award the ESRC studentships. These studentships either fully or partially fund the student's postgraduate research programme and are offered only to UK/EU citizens.

Applications from students interested in pursuing research in all areas are welcome. We strongly recommend that applicants adhere to research areas of staff interest, as staff will be suitable to supervise.

How to apply for PhD with MSc Socio-Legal Studies

To apply for this scholarship you should submit an online application for the MSc via the Postgraduate Admissions System. You must also submit a 1,000 word research proposal with your application. Details about your proposal can be found on the PhD Proposal page.

Whom to contact regarding PhD with MSc Socio-Legal Studies

For an informal discussion about either the studentships or the MSc, contact:

MSc Socio-Legal Studies

The prospectus for MSc Socio-legal Studies has all the up-to-date, necessary information regarding fees, entry requirements, programme structure, and how you can apply.

Programme structure and units

You can explore the units taught throughout the MSc Socio-Legal Studies programme in the programme catalogue.

Other taught programmes

Unsure if an MSc in Socio-Legal Studies is the one for you? We have a range of postgraduate taught programmes available, including LLMs, MA and MRes programmes.

Progression into PhD

MSc Socio-Legal Studies can progress into a PhD if a student is awarded an ESRC studentship. This means students studying their initial MSc year will undergo a further three years doctoral research.


Postgraduate general enquiries
Tel: +44 (0)117 95 45357

Postgraduate admissions
Tel: +44 (0) 117 39 40062


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