About Politics, Law and Social Thought

Why democracy?    What is law?    What is liberty?    What is political citizenship?    Are states necessary?    Is there a philosophical justification for human rights?    Are political and social justice possible?    Do we always need to hear the other side?    What is free speech?    What are the sources of inequality?    What is power?    Does international law lead to global justice or to new forms of imperialism?    Is there a right to have rights?

Politics, Law and Social Thought is a joint program of Rice’s School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences. It enables Rice students to successfully engage with the most important political questions relevant to contemporary society in a global setting. Its curriculum covers several different broad themes that cut across departments and schools. 

Political theory involves the concepts and values that shape our understanding of modern democracy and law. Bridging the divide between the challenges of real politics and the normative claims of political philosophy, its central focus is on the underpinnings of our discussions of liberty, rights, justice, equality, authority, and the legitimacy of government. Understanding the reality of politics requires understanding the concepts and values that shape the political world.

Social theory is a vital part of understanding how politics works. Courses in social theory examine the way societies and polities interact, how they come into existence and how they can disappear. Social theory connects social movements and social self-organization to the institutional order of the political world. Understanding politics and law requires understanding their historical and social contexts.

Law articulates the guiding norms in political life; it articulates the rules and procedures that govern social relations among individuals as much as among institutions. As such, law always overlaps, and is informed by, political theory and social theory. Law and Society courses in PLST look at the millions of points where state power and social reality intersect, from criminal law to constitutional law, from the implicit politics of the law of contracts to the implicit social order in administrative law. Understanding the norms of political life in a society governed by the rule of law requires understanding how law works.

Politics, Law and Social Thought and Pre-Law Education at Rice: Rice University does not have pre-law academic track—for good reason. Top law schools prefer to admit students from a variety of different undergraduate degree programs, including History, Political Science, Philosophy, and English, just to name a few! These (and other) degree programs teach students how to think broadly and critically and how to write well. Law is an important topic precisely when it involves thinking broadly. That’s why Politics, Law and Social Thought brings law-related courses together in one place—for students considering law school as well as for students who are not. For more information on undergraduate majors and law school admissions, see the statements from Harvard Law School and from the American Bar Association.

Politics, Law and Social Thought attracts students who wish to engage directly with challenging and pressing questions at the intersection of politics, law, and society. They take courses within PLST that are offered across most of the schools at Rice. Students are involved in lively debate and research early on and have access to a range of law-oriented internships, including at federal and state courts. Most of our students major in the humanities and social sciences and continue their education at the top law and graduate schools in the U.S. and Europe.

Politics, Law and Social Thought brings together faculty who work at the forefront of political thought, philosophy, law, and history. Our internationally renowned faculty have published on topics from political rhetoric in ancient Greece and princely education in early modern Britain to constitutional theory in Weimar Germany, gender in French law, the politics of media, Latin American political culture, and citizenship in modern South Africa. They have published standard works on human rights, ethics, equality, justice, and constitutional decisions.

Meet our faculty and staff >