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Unit information: Law and Race in 2018/19

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Unit name Law and Race
Unit code LAWD30135
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Russell
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

The history of the world has been marked and marred by the oppression of various groups and polities. In many cases, we face the consequences of that legacy of oppression and witness its continuation. Race often functions as the motivation for and justification of oppressive social, cultural, economic and political structures. This is evidenced by colonisation, slavery, and persistent global racial inequality that cut across, gender and class. Law has often been used to create or justify these demarcations. Nevertheless, the study of law often ignores the correlation between race and law as well as the paradox inherent in the use of law to both oppress and liberate. This unit aims to examine legal history and the current state of the law in a critical exploration of how legal evolution has impacted upon and caused racial disparities, and how these factors are continuously consciously and unconsciously embedded and reproduced within the operation of law.

Much of the key scholarship in critical race theory, for example, has focused on the black experience in the US. This has resulted in a dearth of knowledge about the interaction of race and law outside of the American experience. Therefore, this unit will centre its content on the relation between law and race in the UK. We will start with an examination of law and race through the creation, maintenance and purported cessation of British imperialism. Of key importance here is emphasis on how global power structures that persist today are produced and upheld. We will also examine the key theorists and theories in the area e.g. Delgado, Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, Spivak, Darian-Smith, Nkrumah etc.

The unit will also examine how racial disparities are maintained and expressed in literature and how those representations impact and influence our collective consciousness. The latter half of the unit will focus on five case studies of how the combined force of law and race affects the following:

  • The criminal justice system in the UK;
  • Resistance movements and civil liberties movements;
  • Education and educational outcomes;
  • Women’s movements; and
  • Poverty and austerity.

The unit sits within a paradigm that speaks to decolonising the legal curriculum specifically and decolonisation of knowledge generally. Decolonisation of knowledge involves the de-hierarchisation of knowledge. It involves acknowledging and confronting the hierarchies and exclusivities upon which we have built our world(s). It asks us to examine the margins of society and how these have come about. Decolonising the curriculum seeks to repurpose our study of law so it listens to the voices of those who have historically been silenced. That is the overarching aim of this unit.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the basic historical context of the British Empire in its imperial and colonial phases. Be able to contextualise these events in the current historical moment.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the substantive role of law and legal institutions in enabling and supporting British imperial practices.
  • Critically evaluate the paradoxical role of law and legal institutions in supporting and enabling racist practices whilst also being a site of anti-racist praxis.
  • Demonstrate understanding of critical race, black feminist and post-colonial theoretical frameworks.
  • Formulate and express their own opinions on law, policy, activism and how they interrelate and interact with issues of race and racism.
  • Develop analytical skills through the study of primary sources of law and secondary literature.
  • Apply knowledge and understanding gained within the unit to a broad range of historical and contemporary contexts.
  • Engage with a variety of case studies broadly in the areas of race and law.
  • Demonstrate an ability to conduct independent research and present a coherent, reasoned argument on a variety of topics.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught in the 10 lectures/10 seminars format. We will consult further with students who were earlier approached for their input before the syllabus is finalised.

A series of lectures will map on to the seminars, though we will probably use these as a general introduction to basic concepts relating to race and law, and to provide some context with which some students may not be familiar.

The unit aims to examine race and law from various perspectives, potentially including but not limited to the following: the historical evolution of relationship between race and law; a wide range of theories which examine this relationship; interdisciplinary approaches to the relationship between race, law and society; the impact of the relationship of race and law on issues like – the criminal justice system, activism/resistance, gender, poverty and class, among other things.

Assessment Information

2x Summative Essays (2,000 words each)

Students will complete two from a choice of six questions (three for each term, and for each respective piece of coursework).

Reading and References

Race and literature class [we will eventually settle on between 8-10 texts]:

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. Gyldendal A/S, 2014.

Baldwin, James. I’m not your Negro. Penguin, 2017.

Bulawayo, NoViolet. We Need New Names: A novel. Hachette UK, 2013.

Chingonyi, Kayo. Kumukanda. Chatto & Windus, 2017

Chinua, Achebe. Things Fall Apart. Anchor, 1959

Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. Bloomsbury, 2017.

Lorde, Audre. Your silence will not protect you. Silver, 2017.

Mafouz, Sabrina. The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write. Saqi, 2017

Paton, Alan. Cry, The Beloved Country. Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Phillips, Caryl. Crossing the River. Vintage, 2007.

Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. St. Paul Press, 1970.

Shukla, Nikesh (ed). The Good Immigrant. Unbound, 2016.

Unigwe, Chika. On Black Sisters Street: A Novel. Random House, 2011.

Zephaniah, Benjamin. Refugee Boy. Bloomsbury, 2017.