Discourse, Morality and Power

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 17 January 2022
Friday 25 March 2022
11 May 2021


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 L921 International Development (Including Foundation 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 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),
MPOLL234 Politics and International Relations,
MPOLL235 Politics and International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL236 Politics and International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BA L215 Politics with Business,
BA L216 Politics with Business,
BA L217 Politics with Business (including Year Abroad)

Module description

This module explores the intimate relationship in politics between discourse, morality, and power. Through readings and assignments this module is designed to highlight the central importance meaning and language play in defining the political dimension of social relations, political practices, and morality.

Module aims

What we do in this module is really a species of political theory, understood as involving some combination of normative theory (about values/principles), empirical theory (about framing, power, and disadvantage), and discourse theory (about language and meaning). This module foregrounds the discursive dimension of political theory, 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 bridges what is often referred to as ideology and discourse analysis (IDA) with political theory. This approach uses discourse and meaning as a prism through which to probe the relation 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, morality, 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 power play in the shaping and study of moral norms and social, economic, and political practices, including processes of collective deliberation and coordination; and a deep familiarity 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.


  • Heywood, Andrew. (2015) 'Discourse', in Key concepts in politics and international relations, London: Palgrave Macmillan., pp.58-59
  • Lukes, Steven. (2005) 'Power: A Radical View', in Power: a radical view, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan., pp.14-59
  • Cristina Bicchieri. (no date) Norms in the Wild: How to Diagnose, Measure, and Change Social Norms.
  • (no date) Conversation Across Cultures - YouTube.
  • W. B. Gallie. (1956) 'Essentially Contested Concepts', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. vol. 56, pp.167-198
  • Haney-López, Ian. (c2014) Dog whistle politics: how coded racial appeals have reinvented racism and wrecked the middle class, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bachrach, P. (1975) 'Interest, Participation, and Democratic Theory', in Participation in politics, New York: Lieber-Atherton.
  • Ronald Dworkin. (no date) Justice for Hedgehogs.
  • Simon, Roger. (1991) Gramsci's political thought: an introduction, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
  • Bicchieri, Cristina. (2006) The grammar of society: the nature and dynamics of social norms, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Goodin, Robert E.; Saward, Michael. (2005) 'Dog Whistles and Democratic Mandates', in The Political Quarterly. vol. 76 (4) , pp.471-476
  • Alasdair MacIntyre. (1973) 'The Essential Contestability of Some Social Concepts', in Ethics. vol. 84 (1) , pp.1-9
  • Lakoff, George. (2014) 'Framing 101: Theory and Application', in The all new Don't think of an elephant!: know your values and frame the debate, White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing., pp.11-24
  • Heywood, Andrew. (2015) 'Uses and Abuses of Political Concepts', in Key concepts in politics and international relations, London: Palgrave Macmillan., pp.x-xiv
  • Stuart Hall. (2001) 'Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourse', in Discourse theory and practice: a reader, London: SAGE.
  • Fricker, Miranda. (2007) 'Hermeneutical Injustice', in Epistemic injustice: power and the ethics of knowing, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.148-175
  • Medina, José. (2013) 'Active Ignorance, Epistemic Others, and Epistemic Friction', in The epistemology of resistance: gender and racial oppression, epistemic injustice, and resistant imaginations, New York: Oxford University Press., pp.28-55
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah. (2011) Honor Code: Norton & Company, Incorporated, W. W.
  • Daniels, Norman. (1996) 'Wide reflective equilibrium and theory acceptance in ethics', in Justice and justification, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.21-46

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  12/04/2022  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 - d.v.axelsen@essex.ac.uk / Module Administrator: Lewis Olley - govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 215 hours, 20 (9.3%) hours available to students:
195 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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