Course Title: Advanced Political and Social Theory

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: Advanced Political and Social Theory

Credit Points: 12

Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


365H Global Studies, Soc Sci & Plng


Sem 1 2007,
Sem 2 2008

Course Coordinator: Peter Marden

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 8264

Course Coordinator

Course Coordinator Availability: By appointment

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities


Course Description

This is a course designed to consolidate, extend and challenge undergraduate students’ understanding of key concepts, arguments and debates in contemporary political and social/cultural theory. As such, this is both a ‘grounding’ course and an opportunity to pursue your studies at a more sophisticated and advanced level within a small, interactive group context. It is also, on a less intellectual level, a forum that brings together students in an effort to build and maintain a sense of shared experience (or should we say shared ordeal!). This is a potentially exciting and rewarding course, offering students a real sense of what contemporary scholarship can be about, but its success is dependent on a very high level of student participation and initiative. If you like theory combined with politics, power and controversial social issues, then this is the course for you.

Some prior knowledge, capacity and conceptual development will be presumed, particularly in terms of debates about such things as the state, class, gender, race, modernity, knowledge and power. However, as a ‘mixed’ group involving students from a range of disciplinary fields, emphasis will be placed not so much on what students already know, but on a willingness to read, discuss and draw connections between theoretical ideas and your specific programme.

As an upper-level undergraduate a degree of sophistication will be presumed in terms of this capacity to read, analyse and debate theoretical materials. But, as a group, we can assist each other to consolidate this capacity and to explore areas of difficulty; and theory can be difficult. Unlike other courses taken throughout your degree this one is designed to be highly responsive to the particular intellectual needs of students taking it. In other words we may stray from time to time on an issue of importance that we may not have included in the syllabus. Thus, spontaneity will be encouraged as long as certain parameters of discussion are upheld: namely, some coverage of theoretical debates/theorists and of a range of key themes relating to modernity and postmodernity, globalisation, class, colonialism and postcolonialism, power/knowledge, gender, culture/nature, place and time, race and ethnicity, materialism/sustainability and the dynamics of political/social change.

The field of social and political theory is enormous (as the above list of themes indicates) and we cannot hope to do justice to all areas in a one semester course. It is imperative, however, that this course constitutes more than an ‘introduction to theory’ and that we select a few areas for in-depth study that will be of interest to the group as a whole.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

At the end of this course, you should have:

1. Demonstrated the capacity to engage with relevant theoretical debates outside your immediate area of research.

2. Demonstrated high level skills of analysis, conceptualisation, argument and written expression.

3. Developed a solid grasp of selected themes and theorists within classical and contemporary political and social theory, with a primary focus on some of the principal social theoretical debates of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

4. Developed an in-depth understanding of the key debates that have most relevance to your area of research interest.

Overview of Learning Activities

The course will take the form of an intensive reading/discussion seminar, covering a range of the themes outlined above, in which students collectively critique and reflect on key ideas and values underpinning specific theoretical constructs of the way the world works and how we think about it. Students will be asked to collectively participate in robust sessions that seek to define, explore and critique various major concepts/debates within classical and contemporary social theory.

The most obvious way to get the most out of this course is to read often and read intensively. Consequently, the planned arrangement for the weekly seminars will reflect and, indeed, greatly rely on this reading. Similarly, there will not be lectures given in this course, although the course coordinator, as well as guest academics with specialised knowledge, will certainly help direct and participate in discussions. Instead, as mentioned above, the sessions will involve students collectively ‘writing’ an explanatory and critical profile of the concept/debate at hand. This process will be explained more fully in the first and second sessions. However, the process will generally involve:

 Students independently searching-out, reading and taking notes on at least two substantial references relating to the concept/debate being studied in each of the weekly sessions.

 Students actively contributing to the group sessions in which an exploratory and critical description of the concept/debate at hand is collectively formulated. This will involve the group in identifying:

o Possible, and perhaps diverse, brief definitions of the concept/debate being discussed.
o Some of the intellectual history of the concept/debate being discussed, including the identification of theorists associated with it.
o Some key aspects of the phenomenon or social realities the concept/area of debate seeks to describe, discuss and/or ‘name’, particularly in relation to the cultural, the social and the political realms.
o Some of the key issues, and points of difference, between particular schools of thought in relation to the concept/debate.
o Some possible critiques of the concept or area of debate itself.

Overview of Learning Resources

You will be able to use a prescribed text.

Overview of Assessment

You will be able to prepare assessment tasks with a total word length or equivalent of 4,000 words.