Theorising Politics module (PO32005)

The study of competing theories of how politics should be organised to produce the best outcomes for society

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Module code


The module focuses on normative debates within contemporary political theory.

This means that you will explore arguments about the way the world ought to be structured. This is rather than analysing how it currently is structured.

The module is divided into two sections:

  • "Within Borders: Distributive Justice and the State"
  • "Beyond Borders: Global Justice and the State"

What you will learn

In this module, you will:

  • explore the application of the political theory to questions of the distribution of benefits and burdens in society
  • critically explore competing liberal, libertarian, socialist, and alternative theories of distributive justice
  • critically explore competing liberal, cosmopolitan, and alternative theories of global justice
  • examine case studies where these debates have current, 'real world' applications

By the end of the module, you will be able to:

  • understand and evaluate complex arguments in contemporary political theory
  • give an oral and written summary of your considered judgements about the issues we discuss. This will take into account competing arguments and perspectives
  • evaluate the relevance of arguments in contemporary political theory. This will be within the discipline of Politics and International Relations
  • assess the applicability of arguments in contemporary political theory to political practice. This includes topics such as:
    • formulation and implementation of policy
    • design and reform of institutions
    • agenda and strategy of states
    • parties
    • movements

Assignments / assessment

  • two 2,500-word essays (45% each)
  • one 5-minute seminar presentation (5%)
  • seminar participation (5%)

This module does not have a final exam.

Teaching methods / timetable

  • lectures
  • seminars
  • group discussions
Week Lecture Title
1 Introduction: What is Political Theory?
2 Rawls’ Liberal Egalitarianism
3 Nozick’s Libertarianism
4 Cohen’s Socialism
5 …And Justice For All? Race, Gender, and Intergenerational Perspectives
6 Applying Theory I: Universal Basic Income
7 A World of Peoples: Liberal Internationalism
8 A World of Persons: Cosmopolitan Justice
9 A World of Democracies: Cosmopolitan Democracy
10 A World of Causes: Just War Theory
11 Applying Theory II: Sovereignty and Military Intervention
12 No lectures or seminars


This module is available on following courses: