SO4B7      Half Unit
Lawful Violence: Policing, Militaries and Security

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mahvish Ahmad, STC.S108


This course is available on the MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics and MSc in Political Sociology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Priority will be given to students on the MSc in Human Rights, MSc Human Rights and Politics and MSc in Political Sociology programmes. 

Course content

This course critically investigates lawful violence deployed by police, militaries, and organisations like security firms and paramilitary outfits. We begin by conceptualizing the relationship between state, law, and violence, paying particular attention to a classical definition of the state as a human community with the legitimate monopoly over violence in a given territory. The course will explore how violence forged state power through wars and colonial conquest, and the relationship between state violence and racial, class, and gendered power. We trace the historical and sociological roots of state-sanctioned, violence-making institutions including state militaries and the police, or paramilitary outfits and private contractors. We also chart the shifting technologies of violence through time and around the world, by looking at regular warfare, drone policing, and surveillance. We learn critiques and responses from communities and movements at the receiving end of state violence, including demands to abolish or defund police, prisons, and militaries. Through this course, students will gain a solid understanding of state violence–and alternative imaginations of political community and justice that fundamentally refigure the place of violence and its relationship to collective life.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, online materials and seminars, totalling a minimum of 20 hours across LT. 

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy. 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

The formative assessment will consist of one 800-word research abstract which will form the basis for their summative essay.

Indicative reading

  • Du Bois, WEB. The African Roots of War. Atlantic Monthly, May, 1915.
  • Weber, Max. 1946 [1919]. Politics as a Vocation in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hall, Stuart. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. Red Globe Press.
  • Institute of Race Relations. 1985. Policing Against Black People.
  • Davis, Angela Y. 2011. Are Prisons Obsolete? Seven Stories Press.
  • Tilly, Charles. 1985. War-Making and State-Making as Organized Crime.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. NY: Vintage Books.
  • Khalili, Laleh. 2012. Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies. Stanford University Press.
  • Feldman, Ilana. 2015. Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza under Egyptian Rule. Stanford University Press.
  • McCoy, Alfred. 2009. The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  • INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. 2016. Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, Duke University Press.
  • Gilmore, R.W. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press.
  • Kundnani, Arun. 2014. The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. Verso Books.
  • Kaplan, Caren. 2018. Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime From Above. Duke University Press.
  • Seigal, Micol. 2018. Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police. Duke University Press.
  • Wacquant, Loic. Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Duke University Press.
  • Fassin, Didier. Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing. Polity Press.
  • Wang, Jackie. 2018. Carceral Capitalism. MIT Press.
  • Gregory, Derek. 2011. From a View to Kill: Drones and Late Modern War. Theory, Culture, and Society.
  • El-Enany, Nadine and Eddie Bruce-Jones. 2015. Justice, Resistance, and Solidarity: Race and Policing in England and Wales. Runnymeade Trust.
  • Special Issue on Violence and Policing, edited by Madiha Tahir and Shamus Khan for Public Culture, Vol. 31, Issue 3, 1 September 2019.
  • Scahill, Jeremy. 2007. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Nation Books.


Essay (80%, 4000 words) in the ST.
Group presentation (10%) and class participation (10%) in the LT.

10% of the final mark will be given for class participation, i.e. for coming to class having read and ready to engage.

10% will be given for a student presentation. Students will present on a chosen, original research topic that will also form a final, summative essay. This encourages students to take active part in the seminar throughout the Lent Term, discuss their ideas intensely with their presentation group, and gain feedback on original research and ideas from the rest of the class.

80% of the final mark will be given for a 4000-word essay on an original research topic to be prepared in Summer Term. The original research topic will draw from the student presentations and will be based on a formative abstract submitted in Lent Term. This mark ensures that students will develop independent intellectual work in relation to the topics covered in class.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication