GV321 Half Unit
Concepts and Controversies in Political Theory
This information is for the 2021/22 session.
Prof Leigh Jenco
This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, 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 with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is not available to General Course students.
This course is capped at one group.
Students will be expected to have some familiarity with political theory (e.g., having taken GV100 Introduction to Political Theory, or GV262 Contemporary Political Theory or some other, relevant module).
This course is devoted to the advanced study of key concepts and related controversies in political theory. In 2021-2022, the course will look at the concept of human nature, and the kinds of questions raised about this concept in the history of political thought. We ask about what kind of things human beings are, what qualities they minimally possess, and what if anything they are owed simply by virtue of being human. As we will see, the motivations for these questions vary across time, space, and individual thinkers, ranging from attempts to protect foreign others from colonial brutality, to arguments for the displacement and in some cases genocide of native peoples. We will consider in what kinds of circumstances such debates emerge, on what kinds of assumptions they rely, and what kinds of human society these visions of human nature make possible or justify.
This class will focus on close textual reading of European and Chinese primary sources (in translation), supplemented by secondary sources in intellectual and political history to contextualize and challenge the claims of each text. Students will be expected to read the primary materials every week, alongside at least some of the recommended readings. The arrangement of the readings is roughly chronological but seminar discussions will always encourage transhistorical comparison and theorization (that is, the careful extension of arguments from one context to apply in another).
This course does not require any prior knowledge of any Chinese or European thinker, although interest in and prior study of the history of political thought is strongly recommended. The only prerequisite is one prior course in political theory, such as GV100 or GV262.
This course provides a combination of classes and lectures totalling 25 hours in the Lent Term. 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 LT Week 6.
Students will be expected to submit a 1500 word formative essay by the end of week 6 (reading week).
Wang, Yangming. Instructions For Practical Living And Other Neo-Confucian Writing. Translated by Wing-tsit Chan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963.
Montaigne, Michel de. “Of Cannibals.” In The Complete Works of Montaigne: Essays, Travel Journal, Letters, translated by Donald Murdoch Frame, 150–59. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958.
Thompson, Laurence G. “The Earliest Chinese Eyewitness Accounts of the Formosan Aborigines.” Monumenta Serica 23 (1964): 163–204.
Vitoria, Francisco de. Vitoria: Political Writings. Edited by Anthony Pagden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Essay (60%, 3000 words) in the ST.
Class participation (20%) and group project (20%) in the LT.
The group project will be focussed on constructing cross-cultural timelines. The class participation element will be assessed by quality and quantity of participation in seminar discussion in the LT.
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.
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.
Total students 2020/21: 29
Average class size 2020/21: 15
Capped 2020/21: Yes (30)
Value: Half Unit
Personal development skills
- Team working
- Problem solving
- Specialist skills