GV316      Half Unit
Advanced Issues in Applied Political Theory

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Kai Spiekermann


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, 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 and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

This course is capped at two groups.


A foundational course in contemporary political theory (such as GV262 or equivalent) is recommended.

Course content

An investigation of contemporary questions in applied political theory. Taking as a starting point a pressing social and political challenge, the course instructs students to systematically apply different political theories to approach the problem, to understand and critically discuss different normative viewpoints, and to develop and defend their own position in these debates.

Examples of such themes include environmental and climate change, free speech, multiculturalism and toleration, poverty and global justice, colonialism, or surveillance and privacy. The topics are selected each year to reflect current debates and the interests of the course convener. The course gives students the opportunity to experience research-led teaching, as the course convener will typically create a syllabus to reflect their current research projects.

In 2020-21, the focus on the course will be political-philosophical questions in the context of a pandemic. The approach will be interdisciplinary and exploratory. While the focus is on normative-philosophical issues, we will also make use of positive-analytical and empirical literature. Some of the possible questions to be discussed are: How do epidemics develop and what are the mechanisms and dynamics of contagion? How should we think about and manage the complexity and uncertainty arising from a global pandemic? Which principles should guide the interaction of politics and science? How should scarce health care resources be allocated? Under which circumstances, if any, is it permissible to impose health risks on others? Do we have special reasons to obey the authority of the state during a health crisis? Is it permissible to suspend civil liberties in order to fight an epidemic? Which individual obligations and responsibilities do we have to limit the spread of an epidemic?


This course provides a combination of classes and lectures totalling 25 hours in MT. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and classes. There will be a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

One team-work assignment.

Indicative reading

Kucharski, Adam. 2020. The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread - and Why They Stop. London: Profile.

Mitchell, Sandra D. 2009. Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Allen, Danielle, Lucas Stanczyk, I. Glenn Cohen, Carmel Shachar, Rajiv Sethi, Glen Weyl, and Rosa Brooks. n.d. “Securing Justice, Health, and Democracy against the COVID-19 Threat.” Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard. https://ethics.harvard.edu/justice-health-white-paper.

Barry, Christian and Seth Lazar. “Justifying Lockdown.” 2020. Ethics & International Affairs (blog). May 22, 2020. https://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2020/justifying-lockdown/.


Essay (80%, 2500 words) in the LT.
Blog post (20%) in the MT.

The blog post/wiki entry (500 words) is to be submitted in the MT, and the essay (2500 words) is to be submitted at the beginning of the LT.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 42.1
2:1 52.6
2:2 5.3
Third 0
Fail 0

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: 15

Average class size 2019/20: 15

Capped 2019/20: Yes (15)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness