Contemporary Political Theory

This information is for the 2020/21 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?


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 50 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. Some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and classes. There will be reading weeks in MT Week 6 and LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit one formative essay and two formative blogs in MT.

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, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”; Jacques Rancière, “Disagreement”; Joseph Carens, “The Ethics of Immigration”; Michel Foucault, “Two Lectures”; Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Hind Swaraj”; James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”; Rosa Luxemburg, "The Mass Strike"; V. I. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?"; C. L. R. James, “The Black Jacobins”; Susan Moller Okin, “Justice, Gender, and the Family”; Friedrich A. von Hayek, “The Constitution of Liberty”; Herbert Marcuse, “One-Dimensional Man”; Ingolfur Blühdorn, “Sustainability - Post-Sustainability - Unsustainability".


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 1500 words), blog post (10%) and blog post (10%) in the LT.

Each blog post would have a word count of 500 words, and both would be due 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.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 20
2:1 69.1
2:2 10
Third 0
Fail 0.9

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 91

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication