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School of Social Sciences

Student in the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons
BSocSc Politics and International Relations
Gain the skills to critical examine international and comparative politics.

BSocSc Politics and International Relations

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Challenges for Democratic Politics

Unit code POLI20961
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Social Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Pre/co-requisites

Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Introduction to Political Theory POLI10702 Pre-Requisite Recommended

Aims

Political theorists have historically developed political ideals for a socially homogeneous, autonomous, and self-contained polity. Some would argue that contemporary democracies are defined by their lacking these features. They are characterized by widespread and profound disagreement; by intense social and cultural diversity; by ever-increasing migratory pressures; by market pressure toward the privatization of public goods provision; and, far from being self-contained, they are integrated in supranational institutional and economic orders which deeply affect them.

While the study of what an ideally just society looks like is an essential part of political theory (tackled in the parallel course Ideals of Social Justice), this course starts from problems in existing societies instead. It will focus on the ethical issues raised by some of the main challenges that contemporary democracies face. Each year, the course will be constituted by 3-4 blocks which will focus on a selection of the following themes: migration; diversity; the privatization of public services (education and health in particular) and the transformation of the welfare state; the transformation of democratic institutions; and political participation in contemporary societies. Two features are distinctive about this course. First, it tackles issues which are addressed in other political science courses, as well, but interrogates their ethical, rather than empirical, dimension. The course will focus on the moral significance of said challenges, asking both which values they threaten and whether justified and plausible solutions might be identified. Second, it will ask the extent to which societies like the UK are or are not well-equipped to deal with these problems, through democratic institutions or other channels of political action.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will start with a brief introductory session, followed by 9 2-hour substantive lectures and a revision and review lecture. Substantive and revision lectures will be accompanied by 10 1-hour tutorials taught by GTAs. The lectures will incorporate interactive and multimedia components when appropriate. Its focus on real-world political problems lends itself well to using such devices.

Students will be expected to do the required reading for each tutorial and to be prepared to make an active contribution to the discussion in it. Tutorial reading will be structured around weekly preparatory questions, answers to which students will have to submit each week to their GTA. Students will also be strongly encouraged to do to the reading already before the lectures in order to increase engagement and understanding. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Have a good grasp of the main ethical/normative problems raised by the challenges to contemporary societies addressed in the course;
  • Understand objections to the main solutions proposed in the literature;
  • Be able to distinguish empirical from normative objections to specific policies;

Intellectual skills

  • Be able to develop analyses of ethical issues in contemporary politics and public policy;
  • Be able to relate these to current political debates, thus locating the relevant moral dilemmas  within them;   
  • Be able to apply the arguments and approaches studied to real and hypothetical cases;

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Be able to present critical arguments concerning the issues discussed in the course;
  • Be able to engage with one another in a critical yet respectful manner;
  • Oral, teamwork, written, and research skills. 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 60%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%

2100 word essay (30%)

2 hour unseen exam (60%)

Active tutorial participation (10%)

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission via Blackboard (if submitted through Turnitin).

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results. This applies to Semester 2 modules only. Semester one modules with no final examination will have their feedback available within the 15 working days.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor. Tutors and Course Convenors also have a dedicated office hour when you can meet with her/him to discuss course unit specific problems and questions.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

- Catriona McKinnon (ed.), Issues in Political Theory, 3rd edition, Oxford: OUP 2015.

- Jonathan Wolff, Avner de-Shalit, Disadvantage, Oxford: OUP 2007.

- Jonathan Wolff, Ethics and Public Policy – A Philosophical Inquiry, London: Routledge 2011.

- Adam Swift, How not to be a  Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed, London: Routledge 2003.

- Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets, London: Allen Lane 2012.

- Debra Satz, Why Some Things Should not be for Sale: the Moral Limit of the Market, Oxford: OUP 2010.

- Harry Brighouse, School Choice and Social Justice, Oxford: OUP 2000.

- Keith Banding and Will Kymlicka (eds.), Multiculturalism and the Welfare State – Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies, Oxford: OUP 2006.

- Robert E. Goodin, Reasons for Welfare – The Political Theory of the Welfare State, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1988.

- T.H. Marshall, “Citizenship and Social Class”, in his Citizenship and Social Class and other essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1950, pp. 1-85.

- Colin Crouch, Postdemocracy, Cambridge: Polity 2004. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Child Unit coordinator

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