Contemporary Political Theory

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Laura Valentini


This course is available on the BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Introduction to Political Theory or equivalent.

Course content

This course provides an advanced introduction to contemporary political theory. The course is divided into two parts. The first focuses on key political concepts, such as liberty, equality, justice, rights, authority and democracy. The second turns to particularly pressing ethical questions characterizing the political domain. Some of these questions arise within the domestic political arena (e.g., civil disobedience; animal rights; respect for minority cultures), others in the international/global one (e.g., global poverty relief; terrorism; global climate change). Although the course will be concept and problem-driven, along the way, students will also be exposed to the views of leading contemporary political theorists, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Ronald Dworkin and many others. This course will provide students with a good grounding in the methods and substantive concerns of contemporary political theory as well as familiarity with the works of major thinkers in the field.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to submit at least two formative essays per term, one of which will be a timed-essay conducted under exam-like conditions.


The course requires ability to organize workload/do readings in advance/prepare for seminars. The course will present students with normative/ethical dilemmas they will need to tackle, and will enhance their analytical skills. As a course in political theory, verbal and written communication will be very much emphasized throughout.

Indicative reading

W. Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction; A. Swift, Political Philosophy: A Beginners' Guide for Students and Politicians; G. F. Gaus, Political Concepts and Political Theories; R. Goodin and P. Pettit (eds.) A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy; J. Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy; C. Brown, Sovereignty Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today; J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice; R. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia; R. Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.



The Class Summary Grade for General Course students will be calculated as follows:15% class participation, 80% formative coursework (each formative essay counts for 20%) and 5% attendance.

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
First 14.4
2:1 69.4
2:2 13.3
Third 0.6
Fail 2.2

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2015/16: 81

Average class size 2015/16: 14

Capped 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 71%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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