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States: When, Why and How they Happen (LAWS90150)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90150
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

States are important, as state-building exercises round the world indicate, yet there are regular suggestions that their significance is waning under pressure from globalisation externally and fragmentation internally. This subject examines this paradox from an internal perspective, addressing four main questions.

  • What do we mean by “state”?
  • Why do “states” arise (when they arise)?
  • How do they manage to establish themselves?
  • What problems do states face, and how do they try to overcome them?

To answer the questions, we have to consider political philosophy, history (including the meaning and purpose of history in state-making), the growth and operation of institutions, empires and decolonisation, the use of coercion in the functioning of states, the roles of constitutions, and the relationship between states on the international plane. We shall look at ideas of race and nation and their relationships to “state”, and undertake a number of case-studies, touching on Middle Kingdom Egypt through classical Greece and Rome, England since the fourth century CE, Ireland, the USA, Australia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Students will be encouraged to bring their own experiences and insights to the classes to illuminate the discussion.

Principal topics include:

  • Ways of understanding the term “state”: language, sociology, history, and the relevance of “nation” and “people”
  • Ways of legitimating state power: political theory and morality
  • Ways of holding society together: Bryce, Durkheim and Weber
  • Ways of establishing states: decolonisation, revolution, secession, international action
  • Histories, institutions, values, religions and constitutions.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have a sophisticated, integrated, advanced, evidence-based understanding of commonalities and reasons for differences between states
  • Have developed a sensitivity to complex, historical forces and be able to analyse their inter-relationships and management critically and creatively in the context of the life-cycles of states
  • Be able to reflect critically on the roles of different types of institutions in state-building and maintenance
  • Have an integrated understanding of the relationship between external and internal factors in the establishment of states
  • Have developed to an advanced level an ability to use historical, social, legal and philosophical methods in studying states
  • Be able to bring an informed, comparative, critical and reflective eye to questions concerning the existence, functioning and degradation of states, making appropriately critical and creative use of established theories and concepts
  • Be able independently to interpret social, political and historical trends in state-building and form and communicate ideas and apply them to new situations
  • Be able to transmit detailed understandings and ideas on these matters coherently, concisely and constructively to policy-makers, scholars, and a wider public audience
  • Be able to demonstrate their ability to apply their skills at an advanced level and with a high level of autonomy and accountability by way of a substantial research paper or take-home examination.

Eligibility and requirements





Non-allowed subjects


Recommended background knowledge

A working knowledge of constitutional law in at least one system of law and of statehood in international law, and some familiarity with classic works in political and/or social theory, would be an advantage, but are not essential.

Applicants without legal qualifications should note that subjects are offered in the discipline of law at an advanced graduate level. While every effort will be made to meet the needs of students trained in other fields, concessions will not be made in the general level of instruction or assessment. Most subjects assume the knowledge usually acquired in a degree in law (LLB, JD or equivalent). Applicants should note that admission to some subjects in the Melbourne Law Masters will be dependent upon the individual applicant’s educational background and professional experience.

Core participation requirements

The Melbourne Law Masters welcomes applications from students with disabilities. The inherent academic requirements for study in the Melbourne Law Masters are:

  • The ability to attend a minimum of 75% of classes and actively engage in the analysis and critique of complex materials and debate;
  • The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and to critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  • The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  • The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students who feel their disability will inhibit them from meeting these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact Student Equity and Disability Support.



  • Take-home examination (5,000 - 6,000 words) (100%) (15 - 18 November)


  • Research paper (8,000 - 10,000 words) (100%) (8 January 2020) on a topic approved by the subject coordinator

A minimum of 75% attendance is a hurdle requirement.

Quotas apply to this subject

Dates & times

  • October
    Mode of deliveryOn Campus — Parkville
    Contact hours24-34 hours
    Total time commitment150 hours
    Pre teaching start date 4 September 2019
    Pre teaching requirementsThe pre-teaching period commences four weeks before the subject commencement date. From this time, students are expected to access and review the Reading Guide that will be available from the LMS subject page and the subject materials provided by the subject coordinator, which will be available from Melbourne Law School. Refer to the Reading Guide for confirmation of which resources need to be read and what other preparation is required before the teaching period commences.
    Teaching period 2 October 2019 to 8 October 2019
    Last self-enrol date 9 September 2019
    Census date 2 October 2019
    Last date to withdraw without fail22 November 2019
    Assessment period ends 8 January 2020

    October contact information


    Professor David Feldman, Coordinator

    Email: law-masters@unimelb.edu.au
    Phone: +61 3 8344 6190
    Website: law.unimelb.edu.au

Additional delivery details

This subject has a quota of 30 students.

Enrolment is on a first come, first served basis. Waitlists are maintained for subjects that are fully subscribed.

Students should note priority of places in subjects will be given as follows:

  • To currently enrolled Graduate Diploma and Masters students with a satisfactory record in their degree
  • To other students enrolling on a single subject basis, eg Community Access Program (CAP) students, cross-institutional study and cross-faculty study.

Please refer to the Melbourne Law Masters website for further information about the management of subject quotas and waitlists.

Further information

  • Texts

    Prescribed texts

    Specialist materials will be made available free of charge from the Melbourne Law School prior to the pre-teaching period.

  • Available through the Community Access Program

    About the Community Access Program (CAP)

    This subject is available through the Community Access Program (also called Single Subject Studies) which allows you to enrol in single subjects offered by the University of Melbourne, without the commitment required to complete a whole degree.

    Entry requirements including prerequisites may apply. Please refer to the CAP applications page for further information.

  • Available to Study Abroad and/or Study Exchange Students

    This subject is available to students studying at the University from eligible overseas institutions on exchange and study abroad. Students are required to satisfy any listed requirements, such as pre- and co-requisites, for enrolment in the subject.

Last updated: 3 April 2019