Law and the Unconscious: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue Between Psychoanalysis and Law

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
02 July 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The module introduces students to the re-emergent interdisciplinary field of law and psychoanalysis. Uniquely, it will examine both how psychoanalytic insights may contribute to legal thinking, as well as how legal thinking may contribute to psychoanalytic theory and practice.

From its earliest days psychoanalysis has had a link to the law. Hans Kelsen was a part of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna circle in the 1920s. Starting with US judges such as Jerome Frank and Benjamin Cardozo (who both underwent analysis), psychoanalytic insights had a strong influence in developing the theory of legal realism. In the 1960s the law and psychoanalysis project at Yale Law School included seminars led by Anna Freud.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To enable students to understand how both of the disciplines of law and psychoanalysis, inform, explain, regulate, and govern, individual and group human behaviour.

  • To consider what each discipline might offer to the other in the development of psychoanalytic and legal understanding, theory and practice.

  • To raise students’ consciousness to the human intrapsychic and group dynamic aspects of legal behaviour and decisions and in this way contribute to the broader development of legal thought.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be expected to:

  1. Describe the history of psychoanalysis and law as an interdisciplinary project.

  2. Identify in what ways psychoanalytic theory and practice might be used to critique existing law and legal theories and support legal reform and development.

  3. Critically assess how legal perspectives on matters such as human rights, justice and fair process might be used to critique psychoanalytic theory and practice and used to support psychoanalytic reform and development.

  4. Highlight issues on which there is a contemporary dialogue between law and psychoanalysis – such as memory and trauma - and suggest solutions to pressing practical problems that the legal system is experiencing.

Module information

Indicative syllabus

  • History of interactions between law and psychoanalysis.

  • Nature of legal and psychoanalytic thinking and theory, and how each may contribute to the other.

  • What lawyers and psychoanalysts do in practice, and how each might contribute to the other.

  • Role of emotion in legal argument and reasoning.

  • Problem of false confessions and errors in memory.

  • Way trauma effects individuals involved in legal processes.

  • Application of law and psychoanalysis insights and methods in particular contexts, for example in, family, criminal, public and international law.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • Ten 2-hour weekly seminars.
  • Five 1-hour fortnightly workshops

Students will be assigned readings to be undertaken in advance of the seminars and in the workshops students will be given more opportunity to discuss themes. The workshops will also provide the opportunity for students to develop and discuss their essays.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Richard Cornes, email: r.cornes@essex.ac.uk.
The Law Education Admin Team - lawschoolug@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information
Essex Law School

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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