Discourse, Rhetoric and Power

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
29 May 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA L900 International Development,
BA L901 International Development (Including Year Abroad),
BA L902 International Development (Including Placement Year),
BA L250 International Relations (Including Foundation Year),
BA L258 International Relations,
BA L259 International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BA L260 International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL268 International Relations,
MPOLL269 International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL370 International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BA LV21 Modern History and Politics,
BA LV22 Modern History and Politics (Including Placement Year),
BA LV28 Modern History and Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA LV2C Modern History and Politics (Including Year Abroad),
BA 0A56 Political Theory and Public Policy (Including Year Abroad),
BA 7L29 Political Theory and Public Policy,
BA 7L30 Political Theory and Public Policy (Including Placement Year),
BA L200 Politics,
BA L201 Politics (Including Year Abroad),
BA L202 Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA L203 Politics (Including Placement Year),
BA L219 Politics with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA L2M8 Politics with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA L2M9 Politics with Human Rights,
BA LFM9 Politics with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA L225 Politics and International Relations,
BA L226 Politics and International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BA L227 Politics and International Relations (Including Placement Year),
BSC L222 Politics and International Relations,
BSC L223 Politics and International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BSC L224 Politics and International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL234 Politics and International Relations,
MPOLL235 Politics and International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL236 Politics and International Relations (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

This module explores the intimate relationship in politics between discourse, rhetoric, and power. Through readings and assignments this module is designed to highlight the central importance meaning and rhetoric play in defining the political dimension of social relations and practices, and to help students draw out the implications of this insight from the point of view of political explanation and critique.

Module aims

What we do in this module is really a species of political theory, understood as involving some combination ofnormative theory (about values/principles), empirical theory (about explanation), and discourse theory (about language and meaning). This moduleforegroundsthe discursive dimension of politicaltheory, exploring the role discourse plays in political debate, and it develops a conceptual vocabulary with which to talk and think about this.The module, therefore, points to a particular focus and way of doing research, which could be calledideology and discourse analysis(IDA). This approach uses discourse and meaning as a prism through which toprobe therelation between normative values and principles, empirical claims and findings, and power dynamics.

Module learning outcomes

On completing this module, a student ought to have a good understanding of central debates associated with the categories of discourse, rhetoric, and power; be comfortable discussing key issues in critical political theory; and be familiar with some crucial methodological assumptions and debates in political analysis.

In particular, students will have an enhanced appreciation of the role meaning and rhetoric play in the performance and study of social, economic, and political practices, including processes of collective deliberation and coordination; and a deepfamiliarity with a range of perspectives on discourse and power, noting how these are relevant to the tasks of description, explanation, and critique in political studies.

The module offers students opportunities to develop skills relevant to the execution of a research project (eg., Capstone), as well as skills relevant to employability & citizenship, as indicated below.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered with (i) a weekly pre-recorded lecture and (ii) a weekly interactive lecture. The pre-recorded lecture will consist of one or more items of prepared content that students can access electronically and must study before the interactive lecture. The interactive lecture will consist of one 50-minute lecture in which students can ask questions about, and discuss various aspects of, the prepared content with the module supervisor.


  • Atkins, Judi; Finlayson, Alan. (2013) ''.. A 40-Year-Old Black Man Made the Point to Me': Everyday Knowledge and the Performance of Leadership in Contemporary British Politics', in Political Studies. vol. 61 (1) , pp.161-177
  • GOODIN, ROBERT E.; SAWARD, MICHAEL. (2005) 'Dog Whistles and Democratic Mandates', in The Political Quarterly. vol. 76 (4) , pp.471-476
  • Stuart Hall. (2001) 'Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourse', in Discourse theory and practice: a reader, London: SAGE.
  • Lukes, Steven. (2005) Power: a radical view, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bacchi, Carol. (2012) 'Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible', in Open Journal of Political Science. vol. 02 (01) , pp.1-8
  • Heywood, Andrew; EBSCOhost ebook collection. (2015) Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. vol. Palgrave Key Concepts
  • Fricker, Miranda. (2007) Epistemic injustice: power and the ethics of knowing, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • W. B. Gallie. (1956) 'Essentially Contested Concepts', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. vol. 56, pp.167-198
  • Reflective Equilibrium, http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/reflective-equilibrium
  • Lakoff, George. (2014) The all new Don't think of an elephant!: know your values and frame the debate, White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Keat, Russell. (1993) 'The Moral Boundaries of the Market', in Ethics and markets: co-operation and competition within capitalist economies, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • James Tully. (2002) 'Political Philosophy as a Critical Activity', in Political Theory. vol. 30 (4) , pp.533-555
  • Schon, D. (no date) ''Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem-Setting in Social Policy' in Metaphor and Thought', in Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.137-163
  • Bachrach, P. (1975) ''Interest, Participation, and Democratic Theory' in Participation in politics', in Participation in politics, New York: Lieber-Atherton. vol. Nomos
  • Alasdair MacIntyre. (1973) 'The Essential Contestability of Some Social Concepts', in Ethics. vol. 84 (1) , pp.1-9
  • Simon, Roger. (1982) Gramsci's political thought: an introduction, London: Lawrence and Wishart.
  • Martin, James; EBSCOhost ebook collection. (2013) Politics and rhetoric: a critical introduction, Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
  • Haslanger, Sally Anne. (2013) Resisting reality: social construction and social critique, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Edelman, Murray J. (1988) Constructing the political spectacle, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Sandel, Michael J. (2010) Justice: what's the right thing to do?, London: Penguin.
  • Lukes, Steven; EBSCOhost ebook collection. (2005) Power: a radical view, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Finlayson, A. (2011) 'The Philosophical Significance of UK Uncut', in Fight back!: a reader on the winter of protest, London: Open Democracy.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay    100% 
Exam  120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main) 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr David Axelsen, email: d.v.axelsen@essex.ac.uk.
Dr David Axelsen
Module Supervisor: Dr David Axelsen - da19225@essex.ac.uk / Module Administrator: Lewis Olley - govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Arzu Kibris
University of Warwick
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 66 hours, 66 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.