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Politics, Power and Human Nature


Module description

This module explores the relationship between power, politics and human nature. All three of these terms are to be understood both as concepts employed in social and political thought and as real objects of social and political analysis.

You will be encouraged to adopt a critical attitude towards these terms and the various arguments that have been constructed in the history of social and political thought about the relationship between them. In particular, the module will bring under critical scrutiny the principal claim about this relationship that has characterised Western political thought since classical antiquity: that human politics and relations of power are to be conceived of as a manifestation of human nature understood as the fundamental biological, psychological and social characteristics of the species.

Various ways in which this claim can be contested by turning it on its head - i.e. regarding human nature as a product of human politics and relations of power - will be explored.

Indicative module content

  • Ideas about the relationships between human nature and politics, from classical antiquity to the eighteenth century
  • Debates concerning the origins of human politics and civilization, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century out of Darwin's account of evolution are considered
  • The central position of 'man' and human nature during the twentieth century
  • Contemporary debates in social and political theory about human nature, power and politics, including questions on cultural transmission and social conflict, the relationship between human and animal politics, religion and the impact of biotechnology on politics and social relations