MA Politics

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Personality in Politics

Unit code POLI71132
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit provides a comparative and conceptual introduction to the issue of personality in politics in the period since the rise of democracy and mass political movements over the course of the nineteenth century. The first part of the course introduces different theories and interpretations of the political role of leading individuals through thinkers such as Carlyle, Nietzsche, Weber and Adorno and the broader movements of opinion on which they drew. The remainder of the course examines individual cases of personality in politics as grouped under seven broad thematic headings. Drawing on insight from the first part of the course, this will allow meaningful comparison across different periods, countries and political systems. By the end of the course the successful student will be able to reflect more broadly on the elements of ideology, structure and contingency that have proved, and are likely to prove, most conducive to the representation of conflict and power relations through particular individuals.



The course unit thus aims to:

  • Familiarise students with key concepts employed in the understanding of personality in politics such as charisma, and personal political capital
  • Examine the views on personality in politics of key political thinkers and social  theorists such as Carlyle, Nietzsche, Weber and Le Bon
  • Introduce students to a range of topical and historical examples of personality in politics and bring analytical skills to bear on their political role and significance.
  • Achieve a deeper understanding of some key developments in current European and world politics through the ability to locate these within a longer historical perspective and changing theories of leadership.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, successful students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the forms of legal, political and symbolic authority vested in leading individuals by different states and political movements.
  • Employ a comparative case study method in seeking to understand complex political phenomena across different periods and national cases.
  • Evaluate the role of changing forms of political communication and organisation in the development of a modern politics of personality.
  • Assess the troubling implications for democratic theory and practice of the current ideological fetish of leadership.
  • Pursue independent study and learning, and develop skills of oral and written exposition through the class presentation and essay.

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will take place in weekly two-hour seminars. The first three seminars will introduce key concepts in the study of personality in politics through a combination of interactive lecture and group discussion. The remaining seven seminars will explores these concepts comparatively through a range of themes, types and individual cases. In these weeks of the course, group discussion will be structured around short, complementary student presentations focusing on a specific individual example of personality in politics. Each student on the course will be required to make one such presentation over the period of the course.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%

Assessment task

Length required

Weighting within unit




Presentation (power point slides and supporting notes)




Recommended reading

A full reading list will be provided, supplemented by links to relevant websites and other supporting materials. The following preliminary readings will give any student a taste of the sorts of issues and concepts to be addressed through the course.

  • Clifford Geertz, ‘Centers, kings and charisma: reflections on the symbolics of power’ in Joseph Ben-David and Terry Nichols Clark (eds), Culture and its Creators. Essays in honor of Edward Shils (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), pp. 150-71
  • António Costa Pinto, Roger Eatwell and Stein Ugelvik Larsen (eds), Charisma and Fascism in Interwar Europe (London: Routledge, 2007)
  • Kevin Morgan, Intermational Communism and the Cult of the Individual: leaders, tribunes and martyrs under Lenin and Stalin (2017)
  • Mark Wheeler, ‘The Democratic Worth of Celebrity Politics in an Era of Late Modernity’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 14 (2012), 407-22
  • Liesbet van Zoonen, ‘The personal, the political and the popular A woman’s guide to celebrity politics’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 9, 3 (2006) 287–301
  • Valerie Sperling, ‘Putin’s Macho Personality Cult’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 49.1 (2016), 13–23
  • Robert C. Tucker, ‘The Theory of Charismatic Leadership’, Daedalus, 97, 3 (1968), 731-756
  • Michael Foley ‘The presidential dynamics of leadership decline in contemporary British politics: the illustrative case of Tony Blair’, Contemporary Politics, 14:1 (2008), 53-69

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kevin Morgan Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Monday 11-1

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