Politics and Society

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Robin Archer STC.S114a and Dr Kristin Surak STC.S105


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Political Sociology. This course is available on the MA in Modern History, MSc in Social Research Methods and MSc in Sociology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Students who have this course as a core course are guaranteed a place. Other than for students for whom the course is a core course, places are allocated based on a written statement, with priority given to students on the MSc in Sociology, MSc in Social Research Methods and MA in Modern History. This may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

This course aims to explore some of the great debates about the relationship between politics and society. It will examine the interaction between political institutions, economic interests and cultural ideas, especially in societies that are both democratic and capitalist. The course  will explores some of the classic empirical and historical controversies that have animated political sociologists. Each week, we will discuss questions like: What gave rise to states and nations? Why are some social movements more successful than others? How does social change shape parties and elections? Do repressive states give rise to radicalism? Why are welfare states more developed in some countries than others? Why is there no Labor Party in the United States? Under what conditions does democracy develop? What are the legacies of imperialism? What explains the growth of populism? And has neo-liberalism become hegemonic? The course will also look at the canonical writings of authors like Marx and Weber, as well as critically explore the use of some political concepts. In addition, it will enable you to build up your knowledge of a number of countries and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of some of the main theories and approaches that have dominated the study of political sociology. These include functionalist, rational choice, and institutionalist theories, as well as historical and comparative approaches.


This course is delivered through seminars totalling a minimum of 40 hours across MT and LT, with 4 hours of seminars in the ST. Teaching arrangements may be adjusted if online teaching is required at any point.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in MT Week 6 and LT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Seminars: Papers will be presented by participants and, on occasion, by guest speakers. If possible, students should attend the lecture course SO203 Political Sociology when available.

Formative coursework

Members of the seminar will be required to present a number of papers during the course of the seminar. There will also be a written assignment in MT and LT.

Indicative reading

  • B. Anderson. Imagined Communities; R. Archer, Why is There No Labour Party in the United States?;
  • K. Surak, Citizenship 4 Sale;
  • P Evans et al, Bringing the State Back In;
  • S M Lipset, 'The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited', American Sociological Review, vol 59;
  • S Lukes, Power: A Radical View;
  • D McAdam, Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements;
  • M Mann, The Sources of Social Power;
  • M Olson, The Logic of Collective Action;
  • T Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers;
  • C. Tilly, Coercion,Capital and European States; 
  • L. Weiss, The Myth of the Powerless State.


Exam (70%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 3000 words) in the ST.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the first Thursday of Summer Term. 

Attendance at all seminars and submission of all set coursework is required.

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

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.1
Merit 73.7
Pass 3.9
Fail 1.3

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: Sociology

Total students 2020/21: 29

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication