Political and Legal Anthropology

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mathijs Pelkmans OLD6.13 and Mr Simon Roberts


This course is compulsory on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Undergraduates taking this course should have completed an introductory course in anthropology unless granted exemption by the course teacher.

Course content

The anthropological analysis of political and legal institutions as revealed in relevant theoretical debates and with reference to selected ethnography. The development of political and legal anthropology and their key concepts including forms of authority; forms of knowledge and power; political competition and conflict; colonial transformation of indigenous norms; writing legal ethnography of the 'other'; folk concepts of justice; the theory of legal pluralism; accommodation of religious practices in secular laws of European states.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes.

Indicative reading

Gledhill, J, 1994, Power and its Disguises; Leach, E, 1954, The Political Systems of Highland Burma; Sharma, A and Gupta, A, 2006, The Anthropology of the State; Verdery, K, 1999,  The Political Lives of Dead Bodies; Moore, S F, 1978, Law as Process; Malinowski, B, 1916, Crime and Custom in Savage Society; Bohannan, P, 1957, Justice and Judgement among the Tiv; Comaroff J and Roberts S, 1981, Rules and Processes. Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Exam (70%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.
Coursework (10%, 1000 words) and presentation (5%) in the MT.
Coursework (10%, 1000 words) and presentation (5%) in the LT.

Students must give two oral presentations (one each term), the best of these two presentations will count for 10% of the overall mark for the course. Students who do not give two presentations will receive a mark of 0 (incomplete). In addition, students submit two written pieces based on their presentations of no more than 1000 words each: one in MT (10%) and one in LT (10%).

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2012/13: 44

Average class size 2012/13: 12

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information