Module Catalogue 2022/23

POL1049 : Power and Inequality

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Derek Bell
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



In this module, we aim:
• to challenge our assumptions about power and inequality;
• to encourage critical thinking about inequalities at the local, national and global scales;
• to introduce different approaches to the study of power and inequality in Politics and International Relations;
• to think about how to choose appropriate approaches for studying specific political issues and how to explain the reasons for our choices;
• to develop key research skills, including: reading analytically; synthesising ideas and evidence; participating effectively in respectful critical discussion; giving and receiving constructive feedback; teamworking; and managing, recording and evaluating your own learning;
• to facilitate successful learning in stage 2 and 3 modules in Politics and International Relations by developing foundational knowledge and skills;
• to foster a “growth mindset” approach to learning.

Outline Of Syllabus

Topics to be covered could include:

We outline the module and explain the novel elements of the teaching format and assessment. We present examples that will be used throughout the module. These are likely to include examples of inequalities related to gender, race, disability, social class, nationality and sexuality (among others).

Describing and measuring inequalities
We introduce different ways of thinking about inequalities, including the distinction between inequality of opportunity and inequality of outcome, as well as different types of inequalities (e.g., economic, social, political, education, health, etc.). We introduce the legal concept of ‘protected characteristics’ and the discussion of inequalities between groups. We look at qualitative descriptions of inequality and the use of quantitative data to measure inequalities.

Explaining inequalities 1: Agents and power
We examine how the existence of inequalities has been explained in politics and international relations. We begin with explanations that emphasise the role of agents exercising power over their own or others’ lives. We introduce the one- and two-dimensional views of power and consider examples of how they feature in explanations of inequalities at local, national and global scales. We examine how people, including members of elites or other advantaged groups, use power to maintain inequalities that are to their advantage.

Explaining inequalities 2: Structures, institutions and power
We move on to approaches that emphasise the role of structures or institutions, such as democratic political institutions or capitalist economic institutions, in creating and maintaining inequalities. We introduce Lukes’ three-dimensional view of power. We use a variety of institutionalist and structuralist theories to illustrate the diversity of approaches used to explain inequalities across the discipline of politics and international relations. We compare structural and institutional approaches with agency-based approaches. We also consider how explanations of inequalities can refer both to structures and agents.

Explaining inequalities 3: Ideas, language and power
Finally, we consider approaches that emphasise the role of ideas and language in creating and maintaining inequalities. We introduce Foucault’s work on power. We provide examples of discourse-, and language-based explanations of inequalities. We also discuss unconscious bias. We consider how explanations of inequalities might refer to agents, structures and ideas.

Evaluating inequalities
So far, we have considered what inequalities exist and how they might be explained. We end the module by considering which inequalities are unjust. We introduce a normative political philosophy approach to thinking about inequalities. We consider how theories of justice can be used to justify or critique inequalities and the actions, institutions and ideas that create or maintain them.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of the module it is expected students will be able to:
• Discuss quantitative and qualitative data that describes inequalities in the contemporary world;
• Compare alternative explanations of how power causes and maintains inequalities;
• Analyse normative arguments about which inequalities are unjust;
• Distinguish alternative approaches to the study of power and inequality in Politics and International Relations;
• Choose appropriate approaches for studying specific political issues and explain the reasons for their choices.

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the module it is expected students will be able to:
• Read analytically so that they can identify key elements of a text, including its research questions, key concepts, theoretical framework, assumptions, methods, conclusions, evidence and the structure of its argument;
• Synthesise ideas and evidence from multiple sources so that they can integrate previous work on a topic to answer a research question;
• Communicate ideas orally and listen to others carefully so that they can participate effectively in respectful critical discussion of issues in Politics and International Relations;
• Give and receive constructive feedback on writing so that they can improve their own writing and help others to improve their writing;
• Work as part of a team to complete various tasks;
• Manage, record and evaluate their own learning so that they can achieve, and recognise when they are achieving, intended learning outcomes.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00In person lecture. PiP.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion55:0025:00Five research portfolio tasks to be completed during the module.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Small group seminars (up to 20 students) to work on weekly study group activities. PiP.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities112:0022:00Individual preparation for study groups/seminars.
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity111:0011:00Students meet weekly in study groups to discuss seminar preparation.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1109:00109:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time31:003:00Online Q&A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lecture materials will introduce students to key approaches to the study of power and inequality as well as demonstrating key skills (e.g., analysing texts and arguments). The structured research and reading activities will help students to develop their understanding of key approaches to the study of power and inequality as well as practicing key academic skills. The preparation for study groups and seminars will enable students to develop their understanding of power and inequality through more detailed engagement with key readings. The student-led group activities will enable students to practice key skills and develop their understanding of power and inequality through collaborative learning. The seminars will support student learning and help to promote understanding of power and inequality.

Independent study will enable students to further develop their knowledge and skills. Students will use the time for assessment preparation and completion to write up the short pieces for their research portfolio.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio2M1003500 word research portfolio made up of 5 x 700 word papers/reports.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Students are required to submit a research portfolio, which should be 3500 words in length. The portfolio should include specific pieces of writing (ideally) completed at intervals during the module. Each research portfolio piece will require students to demonstrate knowledge of specific inequalities as well as key research skills, including analysis and synthesis.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.