RSOS4953 – Legal Anthropology

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Course content

Course content

The course is aimed at master students interested in the cross-cultural aspects of changing laws and legal institutions in the context of an increasingly transnational legal, economic, technological and social world: How are laws and legal institutions made, used and reshaped? How do legal norms, actors and institutions affect the everyday life and the cultural fabric of society? How and with what effect are actors embedded in transnational personal, religious or economic relations and how do they negotiate space between the plurality of norms and institutions that affect their affairs? The course primarily aims to attract students of law and social science but will also be of interest to students from theology and the humanities.

The course introduces students to central analytical concepts in legal anthropology. Legal pluralism facilitates studies of the norm-generating and norm-upholding process that are taking place within and across different socio-legal fields, at international, national and local levels in different time periods. Law as a semi-autonomous social field situates state-law in the context of the wide range of norms that are invoked by different professional and social actors. The concepts of indigenization and vernacularization are used to make sense of how international law interacts with national and local norms. Finally, the students are introduced to anthropological approaches to legality and illegality.

The course lectures will address the following themes:

  • The history of legal anthropology
  • Anthropology and international law
  • The anthropology of the state and citizenship
  • Ethnographic perspectives on justice:
    • Institutional perspectives on bureaucracies, courts and legal professions.
    • “Bottom-up” actor perspectives on rights claiming and legal mobilization
  • Law in the everyday life: the anthropology of the private sphere.

  • The anthropology of the Market.

Learning outcome


At the end of the course, you will have obtained knowledge of some of the most central questions and thematic discussions in legal anthropology. Students are expected to:

  • Know the key theoretical debates and analytical concepts such as legal pluralism, semi-autonomous social field; indigenization; and vernacularization
  • Have a critical understanding of the historical context and contemporary relevance of legal anthropology.
  • Have a critical understanding of the debates emerging from this literature.



At the end of the course, students are expected to:

  • Be able to account for central themes and methodological perspectives from the course; including the relationship between law and culture, and law and power.

  • Be able to discuss how the methods of anthropology of law inform our understanding of law, legality and legal institutions.


At the end of the course, students have

  • Enhanced their respect and understanding for social scientific critical thinking and inquiry.

  • Learned what it entails to interpret, analyze and discuss scholarly texts.

  • Developed their capability to:
    - critically reflect on the existence of plural legal orders/fields within and beyond the context of the nation state.
    - Analyze other forms of law than western state-law which is the norms that are sanctioned by the state-legal institutions (state courts).


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If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with RSOS2953 – Legal Anthropology




Students are graded on the basis of a final 4-day take-home exam that you deliver electronically in Inspera.

Size: Maximum 3600 words (roughly 9 pages). Front page, contents page (optional) and bibliography are not included. If footnotes are used in the text (at the bottom of each page), they are included in the 3600 word limit. Papers that exceed the 3600 word limit will be disallowed.

Any exam at the University of Oslo is being checked for both correct word count and incidents of cheating.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English.You may submit your response in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Marking criteria 

This  guide is used by examiners for grading this course.

Explanations and appeals

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Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Autumn 2019


Autumn 2018

Teaching language