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POL2046 : A Global History of Political Thought

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s):
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The module aims:
•       To introduce students to some of the most insightful and influential texts of political philosophy ever written.
•       To give students a sense of how ideas about society and politics have changed over time and how these changes relate to broader social and political transformations.
•       To better equip students for critical citizenship in an increasingly globalized world by exposing them to important arguments and ideas from beyond Europe and its settler colonies, including about race and imperialism.
•       To reveal some of the historical origins of students’ own beliefs about society and politics.
•       To expand students political imaginations and encourage them to re-examine their own assumptions about how our social and political life is and could be.
•       To improve students’ ability to interpret and evaluate complex texts, ideas, and arguments and to write and speak about them sensitively, precisely, and fluently.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module introduces students to some of the most influential and insightful pieces of political philosophy ever written. We will read both ancient and modern philosophy from around the world and think about how it can help us understand questions relevant to contemporary social and political life. Three questions will be especially important: what are the most important and distinctive problems with modern social and political life (and how might they be solved)? Is democracy the best kind of regime? And what is the nature and value of liberalism? In order to think about these questions we will study topics including capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and imperialism. We will also compare the views of modern political philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Stuart Mill with some of the classics of political thought in the European and Chinese traditions, including texts by thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00Present in person (PiP) lectures will provide students with an overview of the life and times of thinkers, a summary of their main ideas and arguments, and an analysis of how those ideas and arguments relate to the thematic concerns of the course and to other texts studied.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00I expect that students will spend 10 hours working on each of the two short writing exercises and 30 hours working on the essay.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Students will participate in PiP seminar groups that last for one hour. This length will allow us sufficient time to perform close reading of important passages and relate the texts to the course's thematic foci and contemporary public debate.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1117:00117:00Students are allocated around 10.5 hours per week to read the course texts. Selections will not normally be more than fifty pages long and will sometimes be substantially shorter than this. Some selections will be slightly longer, but only when the texts being excerpted are less demanding.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures. Lectures can motivate students to engage seriously with the required readings and help provide much-needed orientation to unfamiliar ideas, contexts, and ways of writing. Lectures will include short games, quizzes, partner discussions, and short writing exercises, which are essential to student engagement and understanding. One especially important form of participation will be short (five minute) group-work student presentations that will provide an overview of a specific topic, knowledge of which is helpful for understanding the texts and thinkers being discussed (see assessment section, below).

Seminars. Seminars will focus on (1) the broad political themes of the course, (2) the relation of the text to those themes and to other thinkers studied on the course, and (3) the details of the text itself. Seminars will include time for both reading and writing exercises, to help equip students with the skills they need to engage with course content and write the final essay.

Assessment preparation. I expect ten hours per short writing exercise and thirty hours for the final paper to be sufficient time for planning and executing these assessments, given the allocation of plenty of time each week for the initial reading of each text.

Independent study. Students will have more than ten hours per week to read the primary texts. Many aspects of the design of this course - such as the use of short writing exercises and marks for participation - have been chosen to try to encourage students to take their independent study seriously and devote substantial energy to it. One further way to achieve this end may be worth mentioning here: if timetabling allows, it would be ideal if lectures could be positioned at the start of the week and seminars towards the end, so as to allow students to use the lectures as preparation for reading and then use the seminars to fine-tune their understanding.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M50Students will write an essay of 2000 words that requires them to compare two thinkers on the course. The basic aim is to improve student skills including close reading, critical anlysis, and writing.
Prof skill assessmnt2M20Will be assessed by short quizzes in seminars.
Written exercise2M20Students will submit two short 500-word responses to specific readings. The aim is to incentivise and test engagement and understanding, to give students practice writing and thinking like a political theorist, and to provide students with feedback on their writing, as preparation for the essay.
Prof skill assessmnt2M10A short (five minute) small-group in-class presentation. These will be spaced throughout the term. The aim is to make classes more participatory and engaging and to help students develop skills including public speaking and teamwork.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

This course aims to provide students with conceptual resources for critical thinking about central features of modern political life, including democracy and liberalism, and to improve their abilities to interpret and evaluate complex texts and to express philosophical ideas about politics clearly and persuasively both in writing and in speaking.

Essay. This exercise provides students with an opportunity to improve their readind and writing skills. Whereas some forms of examination can incentivise "surface" approaches to learning, preparing a substantial essay is likely to incentivize "deep" learning that is more likely to improve students memory of course content and critical thinking skills related to that content.

Written exercises. A large amount of research suggests that formative assessment and instructor feedback are extremely beneficial for learning outcomes. Students will produce two short responses to readings and I will provide some feedback on them to help them develop their reading and (especially) their writing skills. These rounds of writing and feedback will help students prepare for writing the main paper.

Prof skill assessment 3. In-class presentations will be short (around five minutes) and will be conducted in small groups. This will also allow me to test students ability to speak about complex topics clearly and persuasively. It is also intended to create a more participatory environment in classes, which should help improve students' engagement and sense of self-efficacy - hence also learning outcomes.

Prof skill assessment 1. This will test understanding of course content and both test and encourage serious engagement with course content and the required readings.

Reading Lists