GV909-7-AU-CO:
Research Seminar in Political Theory and Methods

The details
2020/21
Government
Colchester Campus
Autumn
Postgraduate: Level 7
Current
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
15
05 June 2020

 

Requisites for this module
(none)
(none)
(none)
(none)

 

(none)

Key module for

MA L20212 Ideology and Discourse Analysis,
MA L20512 Political Theory

Module description

This module aims to introduce and evaluate a variety of approaches to political theory, focusing in particular on normative and analytic approaches. It aims to provide a critical overview of different political philosophies; and to consider a range of methods and research strategies for those embarking upon graduate study in political theory and analysis, broadly construed.

It is traditional to divide the study of political theory into normative and empirical domains. Normative political theorists endeavour to construct, evaluate, justify and criticize the principles and norms underlying political practices, whereas positive political theorists are concerned to explain, understand and interpret political practices and events by constructing and testing abstract models of those practices. In recent years, this clear division has become somewhat blurred, as normative political theorists seek to ground their research in the description of empirical phenomena, or at least to speak to matters of empirical import, while positive political theorists have become more attentive to the implicit or explicit values that structure their research. The task of this module is to sensitize students to the presuppositions underpinning different approaches to questions of description, explanation, and critique.

Module aims

To introduce and evaluate a variety of perspectives on political theory research; to provide a critical overview of different philosophies of science and social science; and to consider a range of methods and research strategies for those embarking upon graduate study in political theory and analysis, broadly construed.

Module learning outcomes

On completing this research seminar, a student ought to have a good understanding of central debates in the philosophy of social science; be familiar with key issues and methods in conducting critical political research at a graduate level; be familiar with the key methodological assumptions and debates in political theory and analysis; and be in a position to develop and execute an advanced research project in this field, including a masters dissertation.

Module information

Module Description

This module aims to introduce and evaluate a variety of perspectives on political scientific and political theoretical research, focusing in particular on normative analytical and conceptual approaches; to provide a critical overview of different philosophies of science and social science; and to consider a range of methods and research strategies for those embarking upon graduate study in political theory and analysis, broadly construed.

It is traditional to divide the study of political theory into normative and empirical domains. Normative political theorists endeavour to construct, evaluate, justify and criticize the principles and norms underlying political practices, whereas positive political theorists are concerned to explain, understand and interpret political practices and events by constructing and testing abstract models of those practices. In recent years, this clear division has become somewhat blurred, as normative political theorists seek to ground their research in the description of empirical phenomena, or at least to speak to matters of empirical import, while positive political theorists have become more attentive to the implicit or explicit values that structure their research. The task of this module is to sensitize students to the presuppositions underpinning different approaches to questions of description, explanation, and critique.

Module Goals

To introduce and evaluate a variety of perspectives on political theory research; to provide a critical overview of different philosophies of science and social science; and to consider a range of methods and research strategies for those embarking upon graduate study in political theory and analysis, broadly construed.

Learning Outcomes

On completing this research seminar, a student ought to have a good understanding of central debates in the philosophy of social science; be familiar with key issues and methods in conducting critical political research at a graduate level; be familiar with the key methodological assumptions and debates in political theory and analysis; and be in a position to develop and execute an advanced research project in this field, including a masters dissertation.

Module Structure and Teaching

This module will be delivered with a two-hour weekly seminar that will be live streamed to students off-campus.

Learning and teaching methods

The module is divided into three main parts. In the first part we explore a range of prominent perspectives in the philosophy of natural and social science, including empiricist, rationalist, conventionalist, positivist, hermeneutical, critical realist and post-structuralist perspectives. Using post-structuralism as a frame of reference, we then canvass key dimensions of the post-positivist research process in the field of social and political studies. In the final part of the module, we focus on "freedom" and "power," to exemplify the fact that, at the centre of political theory (and political science), one finds contestation over key concepts. Niccolò Machiavelli's early modern texts – with their important reflections on freedom and power – serve as a case study as we confront debates over the interpretation of historical/cross-cultural and contemporary texts. We conclude the module by exploring the relationship between power and knowledge. These aims are pursued in specifically designed seminars, whose content is briefly described under each seminar heading. On completing this research seminar, a student ought to have a good understanding of central debates in the philosophy of social science; be familiar with key issues and methods in conducting critical political research at a graduate level; be familiar with the key methodological assumptions and debates in political theory and analysis; and be in a position to develop and execute an advanced research project in this field, including a masters dissertation. Teaching format will vary from week to week, but in general will feature a combination of lectures, seminar discussions, student presentations, and other activities. Members of the seminar are expected to prepare for each seminar by reading the essential texts.

Bibliography*

  • Anderson, Elizabeth. (c1993) Value in ethics and economics, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Alan F. Chalmers. (2013) What is this thing called science?, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Quentin Skinner. (1984) 'The idea of negative liberty: Philosophical and historical perspectives', in Philosophy in history: essays on the historiography of philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. Ideas in context
  • Keat, R. (1993) 'The moral boundaries of the market', in Ethics and markets: co-operation and competition within capitalist economies, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Lea Ypi. (2012) 'Activist Political Theory and Avant-Garde Agency', in Global justice and avant-garde political agency, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.35-69
  • Thomas S. Kuhn. (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. vol. International encyclopedia of unified science. Foundations of the unity of science, v. 2, no. 2
  • David Leopold; Marc Stears. (2008) Political theory: methods and approaches, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Estlund, David. (2011-06) 'Human Nature and the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy', in Philosophy & Public Affairs. vol. 39 (3) , pp.207-237
  • Marx, Karl. (1976) Preface and introduction to A contribution to the critique of political economy, Peking: Foreign Languages Press.
  • Ian Shapiro. (2002) 'Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics, or What's Wrong with Political Science and What to Do about It', in Political Theory: Sage Publications, Inc. vol. 30, pp.596-619
  • Bernstein, R. (c1976) 'The restructuring of social and political theory', in The restructuring of social and political theory, Oxford: B. Blackwell.
  • Ian Shapiro; Alexander Wendt. (2005) 'The Difference That Realism Makes: Social Science and the Politics of Consent', in The flight from reality in the human sciences, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Jane Mansbridge. (2003-) 'Presidential Address: What Is Political Science For?', in Perspectives on Politics: American Political Science Association. vol. 12 (1) , pp.8-17
  • Hanna Fenichel Pitkin. (c1984) Fortune is a woman: gender and politics in the thought of Niccolò Machiavelli, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • José Medina. (©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.
  • MacIntyre, A. (1973) 'Is a science of comparative politics possible?', in The philosophy of social explanation, [London]: Oxford University Press. vol. Oxford readings in philosophy, pp.171-188
  • W. B. Gallie. (1955) 'Essentially Contested Concepts', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society: Wiley. vol. 56, pp.167-198
  • Dietz, Mary G. (1986) 'Trapping the Prince: Machiavelli and the Politics of Deception', in American Political Science Review. vol. 80 (3) , pp.777-799
  • Lawford-Smith, Holly. (2013-09) 'Understanding Political Feasibility', in Journal of Political Philosophy. vol. 21 (3) , pp.243-259
  • Skinner, Q. (1988) 'Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas', in Meaning and context: Quentin Skinner and his critics, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Mouffe, Chantal. (c1996) 'Democracy, Power and the 'Political'', in Democracy and difference: contesting the boundaries of the political, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. vol. Princeton paperbacks
  • Berlin, Isaiah. (1979) 'The Originality of Machiavelli', in Against the current: essays in the history of ideas, London: Hogarth Press. vol. His Selected writings, pp.25-79
  • Michel Foucault. (1991, 1977) Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. vol. Penguin social sciences
  • Connerton, Paul. (1976) Critical sociology: selected readings, New York [etc.]: Penguin.
  • Leo Strauss. (1969) Thoughts on Machiavelli, Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Miller, David. (1983) 'Linguistic philosophy and political theory', in The nature of political theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Kincaid, Harold. (1990-03) 'Defending Laws in the Social Sciences', in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. vol. 20 (1) , pp.56-83
  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. (2004) The prince, London: Penguin.
  • Blau, Adrian. (2017) Methods in analytical political theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Miranda Fricker. (2007) 'Hermeneutical Injustice', in Epistemic injustice: power and the ethics of knowing, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kelly, Thomas; McGrath, Sarah. (2010-12) 'Is reflective equilibrium enough?', in Philosophical Perspectives. vol. 24 (1) , pp.325-359
  • Reiss, Julian. (2007-06) 'Do We Need Mechanisms in the Social Sciences?', in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. vol. 37 (2) , pp.163-184
  • Seyla Benhabib. (1985) 'The Generalized and the Concrete Other: The Kohlberg-Gilligan Controvers and Feminist Theory', in PRAXIS International. vol. 5 (4) , pp.402-424
  • Quentin Skinner. (1978) The foundations of modern political thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. 1: The Renaissance
  • Machiavelli, Niccolò; Mansfield, Harvey C.; Tarcov, Nathan. (©1996) Discourses on Livy, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Parfit, Derek; Scheffler, Samuel. (2011) On what matters: Volume 2, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Valentini, Laura. (2012) 'Ideal vs. Non-ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map', in Philosophy Compass. vol. 7 (9) , pp.654-664
  • Gordon, Colin. (c1980) 'Two Lectures', in Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977, Harlow: Longman.
  • Hacking., I. (c1985) 'Styles of scientific reasoning', in Post-analytic philosophy, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ian Shapiro. (1993) 'Enough of deliberation: Politics is about power and interests', in Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.28-38
  • The German Ideology, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/index.htm
  • Susan Moller Okin. (1987) 'Justice and Gender', in Philosophy & Public Affairs: Wiley. vol. 16, pp.42-72
  • Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/preface.htm
  • (1979) 'Truth and Power: an interview with Michel Foucault', in Critique of Anthropology. vol. 4 (13-14) , pp.131-137
  • Rosenberg, Alexander. (c2008) Philosophy of social science, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Charles Taylor. (1985) 'Neutrality in political science', in Philosophy and the human sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.58-90
  • Alasdair MacIntyre. (1973) 'The Essential Contestability of Some Social Concepts', in Ethics: The University of Chicago Press. vol. 84, pp.1-9
  • Alan Musgrave. (1970) 'Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes', in Criticism and the growth of knowledge, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. Proceedings / International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, pp.91-196
  • James Tully. (2002) 'Political Philosophy as a Critical Activity', in Political Theory: Sage Publications, Inc. vol. 30, pp.533-555
  • Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels. (1998) The German ideology: including Theses on Feuerbach and introduction to The critique of political economy, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
  • Gerald C. MacCallum, Jr. (2006) 'Negative and Positive Freedom', in The liberty reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press., pp.100-122
  • Connolly, William E. (1993) 'The Terms of Political Discourse', in The terms of political discourse, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Charles Taylor. (2006) 'What's Wrong with Negative Liberty?', in The liberty reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press., pp.141-162
  • Heather Douglas. (2007) 'Rejecting the Ideal of Value-Free Science', in Value-free science?: ideals and illusions, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.120-137
  • Gheaus, Anca. (2013-07) 'The Feasibility Constraint on The Concept of Justice', in The Philosophical Quarterly. vol. 63 (252) , pp.445-464
  • Lynn M. Sanders. (1997) 'Against Deliberation', in Political Theory: Sage Publications, Inc. vol. 25, pp.347-376
  • Phillips, Anne. (1994) 'Dealing with difference: A politics of ideas, or a politics of presence?', in Constellations: Blackwell Publishers. vol. 1 (1) , pp.74-91
  • Strauss, Leo. (1957) 'Machiavelli's Intention: The Prince', in American Political Science Review. vol. 51 (1) , pp.13-40
  • Daniels, Norman. (1996) 'Wide reflective equilibrium and theory acceptance in ethics', in Justice and justification: reflective equilibrium in theory and practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp.21-46
  • Nussbaum, Martha Craven. (1999) 'The Feminist Critique of Liberalism', in Sex & social justice, New York: Oxford University Press., pp.55-80

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 1    25% 
Coursework   Essay 2    75% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%

Reassessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%
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, Jamie Seakens govpgquery@essex.ac.uk

 

Availability
Yes
Yes
No

External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Resources
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.

 

Further information
Government

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

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