Contemporary Political Theory

This information is for the 2021/22 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 engages the study of contemporary political theory by examining 20th and 21st century texts while also considering concrete, practical political and social problems. Throughout the MT, we highlight theoretical analyses of questions that concern politics and economic life. Such questions include normative issues about how to define a just distribution of social goods and the relation between economic justice and freedom, as well as critical-theoretical questions about how to understand oppression and popular mobilisation in historical contexts defined by capitalist, colonial, racial and gender power. During the LT, we explore various theoretical problems regarding immigration, environmental politics and global justice in the wake of colonisation. GV262 challenges students to consider a wide range of approaches to writing political theory and diverse perspectives on the basic question of what ‘political theory’ is. The course offers an LT option to participate in a public-oriented group research activity in partnership with an external organisation.


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".


Essay (30%, 1500 words), blog post (10%) and blog post (10%) in the LT.
Online assessment (50%) in the ST.

There will be an online take-home exam in the ST (50%) where 4 hours maximum effort is expected within a 7-day period. 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.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2018/19 - 2020/21 combined)

Classification % of students
First 17.1
2:1 68.8
2:2 13.2
Third 0.5
Fail 0.5

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 65

Average class size 2020/21: 11

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication