Discourse, Rhetoric and Power

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2020
Friday 20 March 2020
30 September 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

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),
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 L2M9 Politics with Human Rights,
BA LFM9 Politics with Human Rights (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 metaphor play in defining the political dimension of life, 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 of normative theory (about values/principles), empirical theory (about explanation), 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 could be called ideology and discourse analysis (IDA). 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 seminar-based 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 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.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

Teaching format will vary from week to week, but in general will feature a combination of lectures, class discussions, student presentations, and other activities. Students are expected to prepare for each week's lecture and class by reading the essential texts listed under 'Core Readings'. Secondary texts are listed under 'Further Readings', which are designed to enable students to delve more deeply into any one session's themes out of general interest and/or to help with coursework assignments.


  • 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 Outline (optional)
Coursework Individual Assignment 18/02/2020 25%
Coursework Essay 07/04/2020 55%
Practical Group Assignment 20%
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
Module Supervisor - Dr Axelsen: da19225@essex.ac.uk - Module Administrator: Lewis Olley: govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Arzu Kibris
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

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