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Political Theory and Contemporary Politics


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Dr Jason Edwards 
  • Assessment: a 1000-word learning journal (20%) and 4000-word essay (80%)

    Module description

    Why do some states enjoy long periods of stable political authority and peaceful civil relations while in others authority is fragile, subject to constant contest, and there is widespread civil conflict that, on occasion, descends into war?

    In the social sciences, the answers to this question are usually framed in terms of particular social and economic conditions and processes. But what is often assumed by these disciplines is that authority requires security, that societies need states, or that there is a close connection between politics, economics, culture and social relations. In political theory we suspend such assumptions to inquire into the nature of political authority itself. We cannot provide an adequate assessment of the impact of contingent conditions on authority unless we understand its character, its distinctiveness, and its necessary role in the formation, maintenance and dissolution of all social relations.

    In this module we aim to establish an understanding of political authority in a way that discloses its role in shaping political action, processes and institutions. We will examine this in relation to:

    • sovereignty and the state
    • justice and rights
    • civil identity and pluralism
    • democracy
    • economic relations.

    In each case, we will read both classical texts and contemporary debates, and focus on concrete political problems in the present to show how political theory helps us to better understand them.

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will be able to:

    • identify various understandings of political authority and related concepts such as legitimacy, power, rights and freedom
    • engage with and evaluate arguments about the character and grounds of political authority, including those concerning its constitution, maintenance and dissolution, and the connections between political authority and a variety of social relations
    • employ concepts from political theory in the analysis of claims in contemporary politics concerning subjects such as sovereignty and territoriality, the relationship between law and politics, pluralism and multiculturalism, the individual and the state, and the status of democracy
    • demonstrate a close knowledge of key texts in the history of political thought and contemporary political theory and have developed skills of critical reading of these and related texts.