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Approaches to Political Theory - POL00001M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Monica Brito-Vieira
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This module provides an opportunity to study, in depth, topics of central interest in the history of political thought. It may focus on one or a few of the major works of a particular figure and the main lines of criticism of that thinker, from other contemporary figures, later political theorists, and modern scholars and critics; or it may focus on a historical moment or controversy which elicited a number of works by different thinkers; or it may focus on the interconnections between a given group of thinkers. It will also consider issues of interpretation and historiography, particularly when there are differing, controversial readings of the theorist, or moment, or group in question. Political thinkers who might be studied would potentially include Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Smith, Wollstonecraft, Hegel, Fanon, Arendt, and Strauss. (There is scope to adapt the syllabus to the interests of students.) Groups might include the Social Contract theorists, theorists of representation, Historicists and anti-Historicists, The New Left and the Neoliberals. The course will be taught as a seminar in the history of political thought, with an emphasis on the understanding of, and critical engagement with the ideas of the figure, figures, and texts under examination, and on the intellectual and political contexts that stimulated their works. In 2021-22, the focus will be on theories of recognition; and the aim will be to bring contemporary treatments of recognition – such as Axel Honneth’s and Charles Taylor’s – into dialogue with historical approaches to humankind’s desire for esteem. We will reconstruct historical debates that remain pertinent today: What is the relationship between recognition and personal or national identity? Must recognition be universal and egalitarian? How do political and economic forces influence the ways in which we value one another?

Module learning outcomes

The chief learning objectives of the module are:

1) to become familiar with different approaches and methods students might utilise in their own work

2) to be able to examine the relation between substantive and methodological concerns

3) to be able to reflect critically on their own methodological assumptions and choices

4) to understand that there is no single right way of conducting research in political theory, but a plurality of approaches, whose merits and limitations deserve consideration and critical scrutiny.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit, The Economy of Esteem: An Essay on Civil and Political Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Susan Buck-Morss, ‘Hegel and Haiti’, Critical Inquiry 26, no. 4 (2000): 821–65.

Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, trans. J. Golb, J. Ingram & C. Wilke (London: Verso, 2001).

Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding, Revolutionary Recognition (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021).

Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).

Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, trans. J. Anderson (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995).

Istvàn Hont, Politics in Commercial Society: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, ed. B. Kapossy & M. Sonenscher (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

Sharon Krause, Liberalism with Honor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

Patchen Markell, Bound by Recognition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

Frederick Neuhouser, Rousseau’s Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality and the Drive for Recognition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and ‘the Politics of Recognition’, ed. A. Gutmann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

James Tully, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.