Contemporary Political Theory

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Paul Apostolidis


This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in History and Politics, 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, BSc in Social Anthropology 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. There will be reading weeks in MT Week 6 and LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit one formative essay and one formative blog 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 (35%, 1500 words) and blog post (15%) in the LT.
Online assessment (50%) in the ST.

The online assessment comprises a take-home exam where 4 hours maximum effort is expected within a 7-day period.



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

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 12.1
2:1 71.4
2:2 13.6
Third 0.5
Fail 2.4

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 89

Average class size 2021/22: 15

Capped 2021/22: Yes (96)

Lecture capture used 2021/22: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication