GV321      Half Unit
Concepts and Controversies in Political Theory

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Lea Ypi


This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Data Science, 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 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 two groups.


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). 

Course content

This course is devoted to the advanced study of key concepts and related controversies in political theory. In 2022-23, the course will look at the idea of socialism, the philosophy associated to it and the key political writings of the twentieth century. In the first half of the course we will cover some key issues in the study of Marxism such as the materialist conception of history, the idea of class and class struggle, the role of the state, the analysis of exploitation, the defence of revolution, the role of the party. In the second half we will cover historical developments of Marxism, consider how fundamental concepts examined in the first part are deployed in the course of Marxism’s historical development, assess and compare approaches to each other and examine their contribution to the further development of Marxist studies as well as their contemporary relevance.

This course does not require any prior knowledge of socialist theories but we will move quickly through the different texts so interest in philosophy and in the history of political thought is strongly recommended. The only prerequisite is one prior course in political theory, such as GV100 or GV262.

At the end of the course students will be expected to be familiar with the key concepts in the study of socialism, engage critically with them, relate debates and authors with one another, evaluate their arguments and establish links with other key thinkers in the history of political thought.


This course provides a combination of classes and lectures totalling 25 hours in the Michaelmas Term. There will be a reading week in MT Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to submit a 1500 word formative essay by the end of week 6 (reading week).

Indicative reading

  • McLellan, D. (2000), Karl Marx: Selected Writings, Oxford, Oxford University Press.


  • Wolff, Jonathan, Why Read Marx Today? (Oxford: OUP 2002).


  • McLellan, David. Marxism after Marx. 4th ed. ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, ch. 3, 6 and 7.
  • Kolakowski, L. (1978), Main Currents of Marxism, Oxford, Oxford University Press.


Essay (80%, 3000 words) and class participation (20%).

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 13

Average class size 2021/22: 13

Capped 2021/22: Yes (15)

Value: Half 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
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills