Introduction to Political Thought - PO314

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Autumn 4 15 (7.5) DR B Turner checkmark-circle


What is political about politics? Can we think of political concepts that challenge the institutions of the state and politicians' politics? Are we free when left alone, or when we are all in control of our collective destiny? What would an equal society look like? What is justice and why do we think it is so important? Can democracy be reconciled with liberty? Can we imagine life without a state? Can we ever legitimately resist state power? Is community more important than individuality? Must we preserve all cultural traditions?

This module introduces you to a number of political concepts that are central to thinking about political life. Through these concepts you will be introduced to the principal ideas of many of the major figures in the history of Western political thought (for example, Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx) and to the work of many contemporary political theorists (John Rawls, Iris Marion Young, Richard Rorty, Susan Okin and others). In addition, lectures and seminars will familiarise you with a variety of different debates about how best to understand any given concept (such as, debates about the 'naturalness' or not of rights) as well as how to understand the relationship between different concepts (such as, whether a just society must be an equal one or not).
Moreover, the module is designed to allow you to develop a set of 'conceptual tools' with which to interrogate and shape the political world in which you find yourself; a world which is saturated everyday with competing articulations of the political concepts that we will study in this module. The module will familiarise you with the style of writing and argumentation specific to political theory, in a way that will develop your ability to construct and put forward successful arguments in the arena of competing political ideas. As such, it is hoped that you will come to develop a subtle appreciation of how the concepts examined on this module are, to greater or lesser degrees, intrinsic to all your studies in politics and international relations (and related subjects).


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

11 lectures and 11 seminars

Method of assessment

50% coursework (1 essay of 1,500 words); 50% exam (2hr)

Indicative reading

Catriona McKinnon, Robert Jubb & Patrick Tomlin (eds.), Issues in Political Theory, Fourth Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Coleman, J. (2000) A History of Political Thought: From Ancient Greece to Early Christianity Oxford: Blackwell.
Coleman, J. (2000) A History of Political Thought: From The Middles Ages to the Renaissance. Oxford: Blackwell.
Heywood, Andrew (2017). Political Theory: An Introduction [various editions available]. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kymlicka, W. (2002) Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction [various editions available] Oxford: Oxford University Press.
MacKenzie, I. (ed.) (2005) Political Concepts: A Reader and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Ryan, A. (2012) A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present. London: Penguin.
Tong, R. (2017) Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Fourth Edition. London: Routledge.
Wolff, J. (2016) An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:
demonstrate familiarity with the practice of normative political enquiry;
demonstrate familiarity with the philosophical foundations of political issues;
demonstrate familiarity with the historical evolution of Western political thought;
demonstrate introductory knowledge of the works of key political thinkers;
demonstrate introductory knowledge of the great political ideologies of the modern epoch


  1. Credit level 4. Certificate level module usually taken in the first stage of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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