SO4B7      Half Unit
Lawful Violence

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mai Taha


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.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Places are allocated based on a written statement, with priority given to students on the MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics and MSc in Political Sociology. As demand is typically high, this may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

This course critically investigates the complexities of lawful violence as manifested in class, gender and racial arrangements through three vignettes. The first vignette looks at spaces of lawful violence: home, work, property, prison, army and border. In this section, we think about the relationship between state, law and violence, focusing on the classical definition of the state as holding the legitimate monopoly over the use of violence within a defined space. As such, we explore how lawful violence seeps into social relations within the home space and the family institution, the factory gates or the workplace more broadly, the prison as a carceral space of confinement and profit, and the liminal space of crossing borders. The second vignette is on the temporalities of lawful violence, exploring how state violence is articulated through technology and temporal regimes. From waiting to cross borders or get status, to waiting for a prison sentence or death row, to waiting for the end of the working day, time here is conceptualized as an essential tool of lawful violence, assembling a precarious life that oscillates within a spectrum of fear and boredom. In this vignette we ask the following questions: how do people experience time under authoritarianism, colonialism and military occupation? How does time and temporality feature in our experience of lawful state violence today? In the third and final vignette, we think about refusal. More specifically, this vignette engages with resistance, abolition, friendship and solidarity to reimagine emancipatory futures free from the chains of capital, security and incarceration that underpin the modern nation-state. Through these three vignettes, students will gain a solid understanding of the structures of lawful violence manifested across space and time, as well as the different forms of resistance to and refusal of state violence today.


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

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 MT.

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.
  • Davis, Angela Y. 2011. Are Prisons Obsolete? Seven Stories Press.
  • 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.
  • INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. 2016. Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, Duke University 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.
  • Wang, Jackie. 2018. Carceral Capitalism. MIT Press.
  • Special Issue on Violence and Policing, edited by Madiha Tahir and Shamus Khan for Public Culture, Vol. 31, Issue 3, 1 September 2019.


Essay (90%, 4000 words) in the LT.
Class participation (10%) in the MT.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the second Wednesday of Lent Term.

Attendance at all seminars and submission of all set coursework is required.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 42

Average class size 2020/21: 21

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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