At the end of the course, the student will be capable of identifying some of the key functions of constitutions, as well as some of the key political and social tensions in contemporary constitutional democracies. Sociological analysis will be introduced to explore constitutions as complex, but essential, institutions of democratic societies (providing legitimacy, guaranteeing democratic rights, protecting identity, stimulating societal integration). The course introduces the student to the analysis and understanding of: – the social and societal functions of constitutions and constitutional norms; – the role of societal actors in constitutional politics and constitutional change; – the relation between societal transformation, technocracy, and populism; – the populist critique on liberal, constitutional democracy; – the relation between European integration and constitutional-democratic change. The course will introduce students to various sociological approaches to the study of (European) constitutionalism, analyze socially relevant dimensions of constitutions, and apply some of this knowledge in the study of societal and constitutional transformation in Europe.
The module deals with pressing challenges in contemporary Europe: the crisis of the Rule of Law (RoL) and the backlash against human rights (and international judicial institutions). The approach is interdisciplinary, with an emphasis on sociological and socio-legal studies. In order to understand the complexity of the RoL, and the current challenges it faces, a comprehensive analytical approach is needed, in which the societal and cultural dimensions are duly taken into account. The course starts with an in-depth discussion of the (established legal) meanings of the RoL, human rights, and constitutionalism, to, in a second step, discusses the cultural, sociological, and societal dimensions of these legal institutions. Such dimensions have not been examined widely, and hence a key objective of the course is to explore national legal cultures and legal consciousness, in order situate legal institutions and to show how the RoL and constitutionalism operate in distinctive societal contexts.