Contemporary Political Theory

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Apostolidis


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 International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, 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. Both parts of the course engage normative- and critical-theoretical texts by considering present-day political and social problems. Part One investigates political-theoretical concepts and arguments in view of increasingly precarious social and economic conditions for much of the world’s population. What norms of justice, equality, and liberty might justify efforts to redistribute material resources? How have recent changes in capitalism affected human desires with regard to work, work’s products, and work-based relationships, and what new forms of freedom or submission might such altered desires promote? Part Two confronts pressing questions that stem from climate change, global migration, and racial and colonial violence. What shifts in modern notions of nature-human relations might climate change spur and under what political conditions would people respond to these ethical imperatives? What obligations does a political society have to migrants and what new conceptions of political agency might migrants’ work and political ventures suggest? What are the sources of colonial and racial violence, and what ethical and political commitments should anti-racist and decolonizing responses entail?


15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures in the ST.

There will be reading weeks in MT Week 6 and LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit two formative essays in MT and a mock exam paper in LT.

The course requires students to organize their workloads, to complete readings in advance of lectures, and to prepare to participate actively in seminars. The course thus emphasizes the development of verbal and written communication abilities. Students also should expect to tackle basic questions about what it means to write political theory by exploring tensions and affinities between normative/ethical and critical-theoretical approaches.

Indicative reading

John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice”; Robert Nozick, “Distributive Justice”; Kathi Weeks, “The Problem with Work”; Jacques Rancière, “Disagreement”; David Schlosberg, “Environmental Justice and the New Pluralism”; Joseph Carens, “The Ethics of Immigration”; Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”; Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Hind Swaraj”; James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (40%, 2000 words) in the LT.



The Class Summary Grade for General Course students will be calculated as follows:15% class participation, 50% assessed coursework, 30% formative coursework (15% per assignment), and 5% attendance.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2018/19: 90

Average class size 2018/19: 11

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication