Interdisciplinarity is not something that is easy to teach, but the MSc in Socio-Legal Studies at Bristol University does exactly that in a highly stimulating and dynamic way. One year ago, a small group of graduates came to Bristol because they had an interest in law and society. With the knowledge and confidence gained during the year, it is safe to assume that, regardless of whether we go on to a life in academia, all of us have learnt a great deal about the value of creativity, robustness and reflexivity in our work.
The course consists of six main units. Social and Legal Theory and Advanced Socio-legal Methods were taught by various members of the law school staff, depending on their specialism. Exploring Systems Theory or Foucault with someone who actively applies such a framework in their own work was both valuable and stimulating; giving us a real appreciation of the necessity of having a strong theoretical basis underpinning everything from our choice of methods to framing a research question. At the same time, seminars and lectures in Qualitative Methods, Quantitative Methods and Philosophy of Social Science equipped us with new perspectives and techniques, both theoretical and methodological, to approach our research. The option to choose a sixth unit from almost any offered by the entire Faculty of Social Sciences and Law also offered a welcome opportunity for students to tailor the course to their own interests.
For those of us who are lawyers by training, the first term was a major step out of our comfort zones, where we were challenged by the unfamiliar and sometimes perplexing discourses of sociology, politics and philosophy. The non-lawyers amongst us also found themselves in uncharted territory, learning the ropes of social and legal theory and legal research methods. The mixed backgrounds of the people on the course also made for some interesting discussion. Those who started academic life in sociology departments were quick to pick up on the lack of explicit methodology in many of the socio-legal research texts we studied. The ex-lawyers on the other hand were often more preoccupied with debating theoretical arguments. And as for ethics…
As well as being encouraged to think in greater depth about the value of theory, this course also set out to equip us with the practical skills necessary for embarking upon a career in research. We were encouraged to present on a variety of topics ranging from potential research ideas to practical quantitative data manipulation in SPSS, and were given clear and supportive feedback by both staff and peers alike. Staff openly shared bids, both successful and unsuccessful, and with us candidly discussed the often messy reality of research. Perhaps the most important aspect of the course is that, within this vibrant research culture, we were both challenged and supported in developing the confidence to find and develop our own perspectives, equipping us with the knowledge, confidence and skills to embark on our own careers within the highly stimulating field of socio-legal studies.
There are still places available on the MSc in Socio-Legal Studies for October 2011. More details and an application form.