: Law and Society

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Rukmini Sen

Email of course coordinator: rukmini[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: It aims to introduce the legal to students of social sciences. The reason being law affects our everyday social and personal lives in more ways than one. For every action that an individual or a collective performs there seems to be a law determining—prescribing, prohibiting, or punishing the action. Sometimes we are aware of it but in most situations we are made to be aware of the law when it is broken. The need for social scientists to engage with the law is because law is closely connected to culture(s) and morality, at times reinforcing them on others breaking away from them. Law is not created nor implemented in a vacuum, rather in a context—there is law making or formulation and law implementation, and there is interpretation of law(s) that the judiciary does. The aim through this course there will be an attempt to create a law and society discourse in India by tracing sociological/anthropological writings on the legal sometimes in (unknown) conversations with socially relevant legal scholarship.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Providing theoretical insights to the sociological and philosophical approaches to the study of law and society
  2. Providing exposure to knowledge on work where sociologists/anthropologists and legal scholars have worked on the interface of law and society
  3. Making students know that any law or a judgment has a history/politics behind it- involvement of civil society groups and social movements
  4. Exposing students to sites of justice dispensation—role of courts and quasi-courts
  5. Introducing students to the methods of reading legal statutes, judgments, law commission reports

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: Importance of law in everyday social reality This module is an introduction to law in society—both structurally as well as phenomenologically. It is important to understand that law is a part of the social as well as shapes the social. There is everydayness to the law as well as sui generis aspect of the law.

Module 2 and 3: Sociology and Law: Theoretical Insights I and II The discipline of sociology has engaged with the law since its origins and till the contemporary times. Modules 2 and 3 represent the Western sociological theoretical engagement with the juridical system engaging with thinkers like Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Bauman, Habermas, Foucault

Module 4: Colonial India and the Importance of Law in Nation-Building A nation-state emerging out of colonialism has a complicated relationship with law—reform and legacy go simultaneously. Constitution was a moment of ecstasy and at the same time that of exclusion. This module provides a brief insight into the colonial legacy before taking a turn to how law and lawyers played an important part in the making of our nation.

Module 5: Sociology/Anthropology of Law in India Among the social scientists, historians have always engaged with the colonial legal reform and economists have with independent India’s financial policies and planning. Social anthropologists, more than sociologists, have time and again engaged with dispute resolution in ‘tribal’ communities. This module is an attempt to retrieve and illustrate the various issues that anthropologists and sociologists in India have discussed which can clearly be termed as law-society moments (more unintentionally than consciously) in Indian sociology. Matters relating to family, community, and environment have been some of the areas of engagement.

Module 6: Legal scholarship on the social: It is usually critiqued that the discipline of law does not converse with any other social sciences. One of the main reasons for it seems to be that law is understood and also transacted as a professional discipline rather than one which involves critical social scientific arguments. There are however notable exceptions within the Indian legal scholarship and this module is thus an attempt to do the reverse of the previous, thereby establishing the law-society scholarship interface in India. Some of the issues that legal scholars have engaged with are criminal laws, caste system and labour laws

Module 7: Legal Moments of Social Transformation The purpose of this module is to identify in post colonial India legal moments of major societal transformations—not always has the juridical been ‘right’, in fact it may have denied rights to its citizens in many of these moments. Rights also according to a certain critical discourse become a burden, and definitely paradoxical. The methodological purpose this module serves is to make a social science student be exposed to the different kinds of legal texts—statutes, judgment, law commission reports, parliamentary debates. This inter alia means that she needs to critically engage with and interpret these texts realizing that there is always a history and a political economy context to any of these texts.

Module 8: ‘Settlements’ outside the court  It is important to remember that before the coming of the colonial legal system, there were ‘indigenous’ methods of settling disputes. It is only with the inheritance of the three tier court system that formal court structures with lawyers and judges having specialized knowledge(s) became the only site of justice dispensation in public imagination. However, there have always been attempts to ‘hear’ people in quasi-judicial settings. These processes are not the least complicated—accommodating plural voices, hearing narratives of wrong perpetrated by the state machinery also bring to light questions of ‘forced’ re-conciliation as well as informal hierarchies. This module will take three sites of quasi-court negotiations—family courts, people’s tribunals and truth commissions.

Assessment Details with weights:


  1. Court visits, diary entries and reflection on the court premises, profile of people who come to court, cases dealt with in the court. The diary reflections need to use articles from the course outline as well as focus on how difficult it is to do legal research. Through the semester make at least 5-6 court visits, focus on one aspect that you repeatedly ‘see’ in your visits and reflect on it as your research theme for this course. (40% weightage. Diary entries of each day court visit will have 10% weightage and the detailed socio-legal analysis of it 30%)
  2. Analysis of a judgment or legislation or a human rights report. Historical background to this legal document, what kind of social movement(s) caused the making of the law, or was there social movement as a result of the juridical process? Discuss through the legal provisions and/or the judgment the philosophical/ideological basis of the legal. 30% weightage.
  3. Law in literature assignment: This will be a group assignment where you will make groups of 3. You will read the (suggested) novel/play/short stories together and write the assignment discussing how is law/lawyer/the legal narrated in the work of fiction. The issues that the fiction addresses identify an actual legal judgment on the issue and compare how the real legal and the representational legal differ.

Reading List:

  • William J. Chambliss A Sociological Analysis of the Law of Vagrancy, Social Problems, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Summer, 1964), pp. 67-77 available online at
  • Weber, Max (1978) Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology Volume 1 (chapter VIII), University of California Press available online at pp 641-658
  • Bauman, Zgymunt Social Issues of Law and Order, British Journal of Criminology (2000) 40, pp 205-221
  • Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books, New York (excerpts from Part 2 Punishment, Part 3 Punishment and Part 4 Prisons)
  • RadhikaSingha Settle, Mobilize, Verify: Identification Practices in Colonial India, Studies in History, 16, 2, (2000) Manto, Sadat Hasan The New Constitution (short story)
  • Baxi, Upendra Justice as Emancipation: The Legacy of BabasahebAmbedkar in Baxi, Upendra and Parikh, Bhikhu (ed.) Crisis and Change in Contemporary India, Sage Publications, New Delhi pp 122-149
  • Uberoi, Patricia (1996) When is a marriage not a marriage? Sex, sacrament and contract in Hindu marriage in Social Reform, Sexuality and the State Sage Publications, New Delhi pp 319-346
  • Baviskar, Amita Fate of the Forest: Conservation and Forest Rights Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 38 (Sep. 17, 1994), pp. 2493-2501, available online at
  • Baxi, Upendra (1986) Towards a Sociology of Indian Law, Satvahan Publications, Delhi pp 45-65
  • Sankaran, Kamala (2007) Labour Laws in South Asia: Need for an Inclusive Approach, International Institute of Labour Studies, ILO, available online at
  • Brown, Wendy, 2000 Suffering Rights as Paradoxes, Constellations, Volume 7, No. 2, 230-241
  • SrimatiBasu (2015) Justice without Lawyers? Living the Family Court Experience in The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists confront law and violence in India, Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad pp 86-117


  • Baxi, Upendra From Human Rights to the Right to be Human: Some Heresies, available online at
  • Galanter, Marc Law and Caste in Modern India Asian Survey, Vol. 3, No. 11, (Nov., 1963), pp. 544-559, available online at
  • Shah, A M (2014) Parameters of Family Policy in India in The Writings of A M Shah: The Household and Family in India. Orient Blackswan, New Delhi pp 438-449
  • Das, Veena (1995) Communities as Political Actors: The Question of Cultural Rights in Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India OUP, New Delhi pp 84-117
  • Mackinnon, Catherine (1987) Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, Harvard University Press pp 1-80