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About us

We are a centre of interdisciplinary research with an outstanding reputation for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

In the 2021 Research Excellence Framework the department was rated as having 100% world-leading, or internationally excellent, impact and 88% of research outputs were in the top categories.

The department has a research centre dedicated to the study of British Politics (the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life) and a research group on Population, Environment and Resources.

Our teaching recognises no intellectual boundary between politics, political history, political theory and sociology, and our degrees transcend any artificial divisions. This particular combination of expertise and course has no equivalent in any other department in the UK.

We celebrated our 40th Anniversary in 2012.

Our history

Sir Bernard Crick, 1929-2008

  • The department was founded in 1972 by Bernard Crick, author of In Defence of Politics, and George Orwell: A Life. Sir Bernard was an Emeritus Professor of the department until his death in December 2008.
  • Bernard Crick was instrumental in the establishment of the George Orwell Memorial Fund, which now funds the George Orwell annual memorial lecture External Site at Birkbeck.

Paul Hirst, 1946-2003

  • Professor Paul Hirst was Professor of Social Theory at Birkbeck for over 30 years before his death in 2003.
  • An internationally renowned social theorist, Paul Hirst had a massive intellect and a rare insight into the problems of contemporary politics and society. He had tireless enthusiasm and energy for the many projects in which he was engaged.
  • He was Chair and co-founder of the constitutional reform movement Charter 88; co-founder of the journal Economy and Society; and Chair of the Political Quarterly editorial board. He initiated, and was director of, the London Consortium PhD programme, bringing Birkbeck together with the Architectural Association, the British Film Institute, the Tate and the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
  • His many works include Associative Democracy (1994); Representative Democracy and its Limits (1990); After Thatcher (1989); Globalisation in Question (1996, 1999, with Grahame Thompson) and War and Power in the 21st Century (2001).
  • Birkbeck holds an annual Paul Hirst Memorial Lecture, which serves both to honour his memory and support publicly relevant social and political analysis. 
  • Previous Paul Hirst Memorial Lectures include:
    • 2016: Professor Anne Phillips (LSE): 'Are we not both human beings?'
    • 2009: Helena Kennedy QC
    • 2008: Professor Doreen Massey, the Open University, 'Cities in a Global World: Caracas, Venezuela–London, UK'

Our location

  • The department is situated in an elegant Regency house at 10 Gower Street in Bloomsbury (WC1).
  • The building was once the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, friend and patron of famous Bloomsbury writers and artists. Its main seminar room, where some of our postgraduate teaching takes place, was the drawing room in which T.S. Eliot, Bernard Shaw, Maynard Keynes and others were entertained.
  • Behind 10 Gower Street are the main Birkbeck buildings and library, Senate House (which also houses the University of London Library), and the British Museum.

Our aims and objectives

  • Our principal aims are to:
    • enable mature students in full-time employment to undertake undergraduate and postgraduate study in Politics in fulfilment of the mission of the College
    • enable students to develop and deepen their understanding of the conceptual and theoretical bases of the disciplines, their methods of inquiry, and their domains of knowledge
    • offer students the opportunity to develop and deepen their skills of critical evaluation and analysis
    • enable students to develop and extend their key skills as a foundation for personal development, employment or further academic study
    • contribute to the needs of local, national and international communities.
  • The department's aims are realised in the fulfilment of the objectives defined for its programmes. We aim for all graduating students to:
    • be able to demonstrate the ability to apply critically the main theories, models and concepts used in the study of politics to the analysis of political ideas, institutions, processes, practices, developments and events
    • have developed an understanding and substantive knowledge of political processes and/or social and political theory
    • have extended and developed their analytical, evaluative and critical capacities
    • have developed transferable skills, including the ability to take responsibility for their own learning, learning how to learn, making oral and written presentations, planning and producing written assignments, working independently, and using information technology
    • have developed, where they complete a dissertation, the ability to undertake independent research.

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