Law, Rights & Social Change

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

In this module we examine theories about the relationship between law, rights and social change, using country and thematic case studies to illuminate and deepen our understanding of both the potential and the limits of what may be achieved through the language and architecture of law and rights.

In class, we explore the possibilities of human agency for change through law and rights, identifying national and international constraints, in relation to issues and situations that pose some of the greatest challenges to the concept of rights as a valuable tool for social change.

At the end of the module, we take a look at some of the critiques and debates concerning rights-based approaches and their future and examine those theories critically in the light of our case studies. Classes are in seminar style on the basis of readings made available in advance of class. We will be reading texts in critical legal studies, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. Seminars are presented by the course convenor with some guest seminars from colleagues in the School of Law.

Student participation is encouraged and students will be required to prepare group presentations for some seminars.


Objectives and learning outcomes

• Understand, identify and articulate different theoretical perspectives on the relationship between law, rights and social change

• Articulate theories of social justice

•Critically analyse the issues raised in the course, particularly in relationship to history, coloniality and diaspora

Suggested readings

  • Jenkins, C & du Plessis, M. (eds.) Law, Nation-Building & Transformation: The South African Experience in Perspective (2014)
  • Langford, M, Cousins, C., Dugard, J & Madlingozi, T Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa: Symbols or Substance? (2014)
  • Moyn, S. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010)
  • Sharpe, Christina.  In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016)
  • Williams, Patricia.  The Alchemy of Race and Rights (1996)


  • Weekly 2-hour seminar

Method of assessment

Coursework: 100% (4000 words)

Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.