• Offered by Department of Political and Social Change
  • ANU College ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
  • Course subject Asian Studies
  • Areas of interest Australian Studies, History, Law, Asia Pacific Studies, Politics
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course

The rule of law is a specific historical development of global significance, and one that is inextricable from colonial histories and postcolonial conditions. Proponents throughout the world, including Australia and the Asia-Pacific, point to it as a solution to an array of problems. Critics for their part lambast it as neocolonial and exploitative. In this course, we cover the ground between these poles by turning to the rule of law in its particulars, through study of its relationship to colonialism and post-colonialism in Asia, Australia and beyond. By bringing together extractive colonial and settler colonial cases we aim to identify similarities and differences in the experience of colonialism and the rule of law, and query both the idea of the rule of law as preeminent political ideal for our time as well as contrariwise positions that treat it as nothing other than a fig leaf for colonial domination and oppression. Importantly, we will also look at the continuing legacy of colonial legal and political histories, and the relationship of the rule of law to political and social crises in our time. 

By taking an historical and cultural approach to the rule of law, we will expand and deepen our understanding of these regions' pasts and present day conditions, as well as adopt an empirically informed perspective on how and why the rule of law is so pervasive. Students will gain new insights into legal history and colonial power in a wide variety of places, including but not limited to Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore, as well as through regional organisations. They will also consider in detail how the interaction between colonialism and the rule of law in Australia is at once distinct from and similar to that of the country’s regional neighbours. 

This course is jointly taught in the College of Asia and the Pacific and the ANU College of Law. The Department of Political and Social Change is offering the course for students enrolled in the Bachelor of Asian Studies and in Bachelor of Arts in the College of Arts and Social Sciences, and in the ANU Law School for students enrolled in LLB and JD programs. The course will also be open to students in the Bachelor of Arts, and we expect interest from students doing the sociology, politics, development studies and human rights majors in particular. The course is deliberately interdisciplinary in its contents, modes of instruction and methods. It draws on a rich comparative socio-legal, anthropological, sociological and political scientific literature that in recent years has delivered an impressive range of studies on the rule of law in different colonial times and places, and work that ties the empirical contents of the course to overarching concepts of legality, authority and power.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Define and analyse keywords and contemporary debates shared across the disciplines of law, history, politics, and culture, addressing a variety of approaches to the rule of law, law and development, colonialism, and post-colonialism in Asia.
  2. Compare, contrast and reflect on contemporary issues in the rule of law and colonial legacies across Asia and in Australia.
  3. Recognise, distinguish and appraise research and methods across different fields in law and the social sciences, with specific reference to the different countries studied during the course.
  4. Evaluate and compare a variety of textual sources from a range of different disciplines, periods, and genres.
  5. Independently problem-solve by evaluating, planning, and executing interdisciplinary scholarship and research.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Two short response essays over the term: 600 words each, value 15% each (30) [LO 1,2,4]
  2. Final research essay: 2,500 words (50) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  3. Group presentation (20) [LO 1,2,3,4]

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130 hours consisting of 3 hours face to face + 6 hours preparation time per week

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have successfully completed at least 24 units of university courses. To enrol in this course you must be studying a program which includes a Bachelor of Asian Studies or Bachelor of Arts. You are not able to enrol in this course if you have previously completed LAWS4309

Prescribed Texts


Preliminary Reading

A modern, burgeoning, and diverse literature makes up the reading for the course. Indicative foundational readings on the idea and practice of the rule of law include:

Paul Gowder, The Rule of Law in the Real World (2016)

Martin Krygier, The Rule of Law (2016)

Margaret Radin, Reconsidering the Rule of Law (1989)

EP Thompson, Whigs and Hunters (1975)

Indicative readings on the rule of law and settler colonialism include:

Jon Altman & Melinda Hinkson, Coercive Reconciliation (2007)

Eve Darian-Smith, Religion, Race and Rights (2010)

Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism (1983)

Des Manderson, Kangaroo Courts and the Rule of Law (2012)

Indicative readings on the rule of law and extractive colonialism include:

Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency (2003)

Elizabeth Kolsky, Colonial Justice in British India (2010)

Randy Kostal, A Jurisprudence of Power (2005)

Keally McBride, Mr Mothercountry (2016)

Indicative readings on the rule of law in the postcolony include:

Nick Cheesman, Opposing the Rule of Law (2015)

Jean & John Comaroff, Law and Disorder in the Postcolony (2006)

Mark Massoud, Law's Fragile State (2013)

Jothie Rajah, Authoritarian Rule of Law (2012)

A full draft syllabus has been completed and has been circulated to staff with whom consultations have been held. It is available on request.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $4200
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $5700
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

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