SOAS University of London

School of Law

Law and International Inequality:Critical Legal Analysis of Political Economy From Colonialism to Globalisation

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Taught in:
Full Year

International inequality - the gross disparities in citizens' access to all manner of goods, material and social, across nations rather than within them - is simultaneously a taken-for-granted bedrock fact of the contemporary globalised world, and its greatest scandal. This module seeks to re-historicise and denaturalise the rise of international inequality, and to assess critically the role in that process of law in the widest sense—legal institutions, processes, rules, procedures, personnel, culture and values. The syllabus of the module tracks many of the topics to be found in modules on Law and Development or Law and Economics, but from a distinct perspective and in a broadly interdisciplinary fashion. It stresses throughout the indivisibility of the legal from economic and political domains (policy, activity, discourse) against prevailing ideologically motivated efforts to demarcate them sharply one from another.

The first term is a sustained exploration of the 'call on law' in both the theory and practice of post-war international development. We examine the policies of the 'developing' (ex-colonial, Southern) states (developmentalism, or Third World Keynesianism), and the analysis and advice of experts in economics, law, and allied fields, in the effort to overcome belatedness and recapitulate the transformation of European/North American societies from agrarian to industrial over the course of the 19th century. Along the way we interrogate the nature and significance of that Great Transformation: was it directed or spontaneous? Where was the State and who made the key investment/allocation decisions? Who lost and who gained, inside and outside borders? Where was law? We ask similar questions of the 'road show' version of the Great Transformation attendant on decolonisation. Can centuries of the coercive European organisation of the non-European world—economically, politically, culturally, and (most especially for these purposes) legally, through colonialism and imperialism—be discounted as immaterial to a problem of overcoming barriers to market entry? We examine the succession of ideas about and policy approaches to development and law and development, from first-generation development economics, through law and development, dependency theory, East Asian industrialism, neoliberalism and beyond.

The second term widens the optic to look at the international (transnational, globalised) context of contemporary development. From the standpoint of the South, is globalisation fate or conspiracy or something else, and how important is law in it? Can it be counter-hegemonic as well as hegemonic? Does the emerging regime for international economic regulation (encompassing public and private domestic law and public and private international law, and a myriad of other soft norms and practices) constrain development policy juridically or does it offer a new strategic arena for the contestation and redressing of international inequality? How do the Development States of the 2000s differ from their counterparts of 50 years ago in their call on law?

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

To master a set of analytic and conceptual tools for analysing the relationship between law and economic performance for economies in the European and non-European worlds from the colonial period through the era of globalisation.

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 40% (4000 words)
  • Unseen written exam: 60%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules