MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Research Route)

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Political Theory Research Training Seminar

Unit code POLI70601
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Analytical political theory is a fundamentally dialectic, dialogical discipline: the best way of putting an argument to the test is to see whether it can survive the critical scrutiny of other theoretically trained scholars and students.  Our conviction is that this is one of the fundamental skills that post-graduate students in political theory must learn in depth: figuring out how to play the dialectical game at both ends – namely by learning, on the one hand, what is a good, helpful, fair way of probing someone else’s argument; and, on the other, how to revise one’s views, their presentation, or both on the basis of powerful challenges.



The course unit aims to:

  • Introduce students to the most important methodological disputes in analytical political theory
  • Introduce students to a range of methodologies employed in analytical political theory.
  • Help students adjudicate among these methods, and employ them by critically analysing examples of the latest work in political theory – not just by discussing specific pieces academic work, but also by engaging directly with their authors.
  • Introduce students to the fundamental dialectical nature of political theory/philosophy, where asking questions, probing and challenging someone’s work, revising one’s thinking on the basis of one’s reaction to challenges etc. is essential to the construction of sound, rigorous arguments.
  • Build students’ confidence and sharpen their capacity for critical thinking and dialectic engagement by encouraging them to critically engage with the authors of the academic pieces they have previously analysed in class.
  • Sharpen students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.

Teaching and learning methods

The preparatory sessions will be accompanied by an online discussion forum to be set up on Blackboard, to which students will participate in the run up to the sessions (after the text has been circulated).

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the main techniques used by analytical political theorists.
  • Understand the main methodological disputes in the discipline.
  • Understand how and when to employ these techniques in their own work and when critically analysing the work of others.
  • Gain a better understanding of how to build research skills in political theory – both in terms of developing one’s own argument and in critically engaging with someone else’s work.
  • “Learning by doing”: learn how to assess the methodological structure of a piece of academic work in political theory by directly engaging with their author.
  • Gain a better understanding of how to present a political theory paper.

Intellectual skills

  • Develop their ability to critically analyse philosophical arguments and theories (as well as construct their own arguments, and begin to construct their own theories).
  • Become proficient at using a range of analytical and conceptual tools in order to engage more effectively in philosophical debate.
  • Sharpen their ability to critically engage with an argument as it is being delivered by a speaker.

Practical skills

  • Develop their oral skills (by means of general discussion and small group work in seminars)
  • Develop their written skills (by means of an assessed essay).
  • Develop their reading skills (by means of careful study of the literature in preparation for seminars and while writing essays).

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop their team-work skills (by means of a small group work in tutorials)
  • Develop their confidence at speaking out in public forums (and, more specifically, intellectual public forums).
  • Develop their capacity to engage critically, but respectfully, with someone else’s work.
  • Develop their capacity to help improving someone else’s work/argument (essential for working in teams).
  • Sharpen their ability to engage in constructive criticism of others’ work, both in writing and face to face.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

Essay of 2,000 words (50%), Short Article Review of 1000 words (25%), participation of in-class and discussion forum (25%).

Recommended reading

  • Blau (ed.), Methods in Analytical Political Theory, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • D. Leopold and M. Stears (eds.), Political Theory: Methods and Approaches (Oxford: OUP, 2008).
  • Jo Wolff, “Analytic Political Philosophy”, p. 795-822 in Beaney ed. The Oxford Handbook to the History of Analytic Philosophy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • M. Timmons, 1987, ‘Foundationalism and the Structure of Ethical Justification’, Ethics, 97 (1987): 595-609.
  • Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, ‘Thought Experiments’
  • Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them to Be?” in Resisting Reality, 221–47 also in Noûs, 34: 31–55.
  • James, A. ‘Constructivism, Intuitionism and Ecumenism’, in Olsaretti, S. ed. The Oxford Handbook on Distributive Justice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Child Unit coordinator
Liam Shields Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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