Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA49330: Ideologies and Political Thought

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA49330: Ideologies and Political Thought

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To enable students to become acquainted with some of the major developments in the history of political thought since the Enlightenment through the study of ideologies, on the one hand, and/ or political ideas in Britain, on the other;
  • To enable students to appreciate the significance of these developments at a high conceptual and historical level of understanding through the use of primary and advanced secondary sources;
  • To enhance students' sensitivity to the role that political thought has played in the specific cultural contexts in which it is generated, developed and/or applied;
  • To enable students to locate strands of political thought within wider political traditions;
  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of how various forms of political thought play out in wider political discourses;
  • To enable students to critically evaluate contemporary scholarship in the field of the history of political thought.


  • The above aims are achieved by focussing on specific subject matter from the history of political thought drawn from one or both of the following themes depending on the teaching team;
  • Either
  • 1. Political Ideology, past and present
  • • Topics studied under this theme (with both a substantive lecture and two-hour seminar on each) typically include at least some of the following;
  • • The nature of Ideology, Liberalism, Conservatism, Marxism, Social Democracy, Fascism, Anarchism, Feminism
  • And /or
  • 2. British political thought, from Bentham to Brexit.
  • • Topics/ thinkers studied under this theme (with both a substantive lecture and two-hour seminar on each) typically include at least some of the following;
  • • Bentham, J.S. Mill, James Fitzjames Stephen, women’s suffrage and women’s rights, R.H. Tawney, George Orwell, Michael Oakeshott, political thought and Brexit.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will acquire knowledge and understanding of:
  • • An advanced understanding of the conceptual development, debates and controversies surrounding central questions in the History of Political thought;
  • • Detailed and sophisticated knowledge and understanding of key turning points in the development of political thought drawing on a diverse range of contemporary primary sources and advanced secondary sources;
  • • Understanding of the complex relationship between these developments and specific, seminal historical events;
  • • Enhanced sensitivity to the role political thought and political thinkers have played in defining core aspects of political discourse.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • • A developed ability to interpret and analyse foundational political thought texts and arguments and to relate them to various, relevant contexts.
  • • The advanced ability to interpret and critically assess diverse sources, with particular emphasis on a wide range of primary sources.
  • • A sophisticated critical engagement with advanced secondary sources and relevant current scholarship.
  • • Enhanced sensitivity to the historical embeddedness of diverse texts in the History of Political Thought and an ability to identify the basis of their contemporary and, in some cases, continuing appeal.
  • • Appreciation of the wider connections between political thought and politics broadly conceived.
Key Skills:
  • Students will also develop some important key skills, suitable for underpinning study at this and subsequent levels, such as:
  • • Independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level;
  • • Independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution;
  • • Advanced ability to seek out and use relevant data sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources, as well as primary sources, and policy reports;
  • • Ability for independent thinking informed by the academic debate at an advanced level.
  • • Advanced essay-writing skills and the ability to work to a deadline;
  • • Effective written communication of research and policy applications;
  • • Ability to reflect critically on their own work and performance.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • An introductory lecture will set out the module's subject matter and framework of analysis. It will introduce students to relevant sources, issues and perspectives.
  • The first two-hour seminar will establish how future substantive seminars will run and introduce the students to each other and to the tutor(s). Student presentations will be assigned and questions may be asked about the context and aims of the module. There will be time for a general, wide-ranging discussion about the themes of the module.
  • The module content of eight substantive topics will be delivered by a combination of one-hour lectures and two-hour seminars. The substantive lectures will describe the topic in broad terms, thereby offering a grounding to students new to Political Thought or, indeed, to studying Politics as an academic discipline itself. They will also identity key areas of contestation and debate and introduce some of the relevant authorities to consider them.
  • The two-hour substantive seminars will offer the forum whereby the groundwork laid by the lectures can be built on, as they provide a structured context for the acquisition of complex and specialised knowledge and understanding. The seminars will enable the students to develop their abilities to conduct research, to communicate, to present theoretical alternatives and data, and to develop their own argumentation skills. They will further allow the students opportunity to exchange ideas, to explore issues and arguments that interest or concern them in greater depth, and to receive feedback from both the group and the tutor on their own understanding and interpretations. Seminar teaching will thus maximise scope for independent student engagement with a diverse range of primary texts and specialised secondary commentaries, leading to the formation of independent judgment on their meaning and significance. There will be a minimum reading requirement for each seminar which all students will be expected to undertake.
  • The modes of learning through seminar presentations and discussions (small and full group) and essay writing will enhance the students' capacity to organise autonomously their material and ideas; they will place a premium on independent research and analysis but within a supportive learning environment in which the student's ideas may be consolidated and further developed.
  • Students are required to submit a 1,500-word formative essay half way through the module. This enables them to practice their essay-writing skills, to assess their own progress, and to receive feedback on whether they are achieving at the appropriate level, whether they are sufficiently informed, and if they are expressing themselves appropriately.
  • The mode of assessment through formative and summative essays permits students to develop research specialisms within the module, demonstrating their ability to utilise diverse primary and advanced secondary sources in an independent and innovative manner.
  • The formative essay and associated feedback offers a means of preparing for the summative essay of 4,000 words which students are required to submit at the end of the module.
  • Summative essays will include appropriate use of primary source material, critically reviewing complex and specialised secondary sources, including from the cutting edge of current scholarship, in order to support independent judgment in a contested field and in appropriate context. Summative essays enable students to demonstrate that they have sufficient subject knowledge to meet the assessment criteria, that they have achieved the subject skills and that they have acquired the key skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Fortnightly 1 hour 10
Seminars 9 Fortnightly 2 hours 18
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 4000 100%

Formative Assessment:

Students will be required to submit a formative essay of 1,500 words half way through the module.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University