MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Standard Route) / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Critical Theory

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY60282
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
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Critique and thinking critically are usually considered essential practices in the contemporary humanities, indeed, being able to think critically is often lauded as theprincipal gain of a good university education. These kinds of claim are rarely backed up by any account of what critical thought actually is and what makes it so special. There is a growing body of work within the critical disciplines themselves that questions this and asks if the claims made for critique aren't a bit overblown. This course is an opportunity to explore this debate, which is a discussion about the meaning and value of a humanities education in contemporary society - what are we doing in the university and why?


The overall aim of the course is to explore the idea of thinking critically in a critical way. Critique is the dominant motif of contemporary humanities education; as academics we often claim that the lasting effect of our endeavours is the cultivation of a distinctively critical intelligence in our students. But critique's hegemony has occasionally been challenged. Is it anything more than a kind of 'virtue signalling' dressed up as epistemology?

The course aims:

  • To develop and explore critical thinking about critique
  • To discuss what is meant by the phrase 'critical theory' and how this has changed.
  • To explore the uses of critique in multiple disciplines and from multiple perspectives.
  • To assess the enduring significance of critical theory as a way of approaching key debates and topics in contemporary humanities and social sciences.
  • To assess the relationship between critique and a range of practices, including those in art, politics and the academy.

Learning outcomes

Students will develop:

  • An in-depth appreciation of the scope, aims and character of contemporary critical theory as it is found in and across multiple disciplines
  • Enhanced understanding of the meaning of 'critique', and of thinking critically, as against other ways of reasoning
  • Ability to form opinions and make arguments concerning the current status of critical theory as a branch of study in the human sciences
  • Advanced understanding of individual authors in the critical tradition, including Kant, Marx, Adorno and Foucault, gained through engaging with primary texts and a range of secondary literature
  • Advanced understanding of the practical implications of thinking critically

Teaching and learning methods

10 * 2 hour lecture/seminars, focused on key readings and student-led discussion

Assessment methods

Written assignment (3000 word essay) 100%

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Graeme Kirkpatrick Unit coordinator

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