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Critical Methods in Law & Society Research


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Sappho Xenakis
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (80%) and 1000-word research proposal (20%)

Module description

Drawing on the Law School’s notable strengths in critical, interdisciplinary, theory-driven and philosophically-oriented approaches to law and socio-legal research, this module provides critically-oriented training in the fundamentals of research design, implementation, interpretation and communication. It introduces a broad range of pertinent research methods and methodological debates about research principles and practices, equipping you with a set of fundamental skills and understanding with which to both rigorously evaluate scholarship in the field as well as other pertinent research materials, and to pursue innovative and robustly designed research projects.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Introduction: method and anti-method - different approaches to concepts and practices, and debates about method and theories of knowledge
  • Disciplinary methodological divides and bridges: law, history, art and social sciences
  • Literature reviews and critical reading: developing a critical eye and voice
  • Research design and critique: the role and politics of theory selection, description and evaluation 
  • Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods: disciplinary debates on their value and weaknesses
  • Case studies, surveys and sampling: the politics of representativeness and bias
  • Observational, ethnographic and field research: questions of ethics and value in planning, practice and interpretation
  • Positionality in research and as researchers: race, gender, class - identifying and addressing it
  • Communication of research: power and conventions of style and format
  • Purposes of research: the role of research in social and legal order and change; perspectives on engagement, impact and knowledge exchange

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • identify, evaluate and critique a range of research methods used in the study of law and society
  • identify key ethical issues and responsibilities at stake when undertaking research
  • demonstrate a clear understanding of the fundamental principles of research design, execution and analysis
  • critically analyse, evaluate and compare a range of methodological approaches
  • identify strengths, weaknesses, values and limitations in empirical evidence
  • appreciate the importance of social, cultural, political and economic context for understanding sources used.