MA
2021 start

Political Theory

Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Department of Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences

This course is designed to help you develop advanced knowledge and understanding of political philosophy. The MA teaches you the research skills you need for a PhD in political theory or a related subject.
Postgraduate philosophy students sitting around coffee table

Course description

Taught jointly by the departments of philosophy and politics, this course gives you the opportunity to explore contemporary political philosophy and its historical underpinnings. You’ll study topics such as global justice, the environment, feminism, equality, freedom, democracy and international political theory, delving into the debates that are shaping current political discourse and developing your understanding of the cultural, historical and philosophical contexts that surround them. 

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Modules

Core modules:

Political Philosophy Research Seminar

Students on this module will attend a two-hour seminar every week (except reading week). The objectives of the module are to: (i) read and discuss certain key texts in political philosophy; and (ii) have each student develop a writing project, on which they will be evaluated. The selection of texts will reflect the expertise of the staff involved. The seminars will be discussion orientated and students will on occasion be expected to deliver informal presentations. Students are entitled to advisory tutorials with the staff members involved, depending on which topic they want to focus on in their writing assignment.

30 credits
Dissertation

Contact department for more information.

60 credits

Philosophy optional modules:

Feminism

Feminists have famously claimed that the personal is political. This module takes up various topics with that methodological idea in mind: the family, cultural critique, language. We examine feminist methodologies - how these topics might be addressed by a feminism that is inclusive of all women - and also turn attention to social structures within which personal choices are made - capitalism, and climate crisis.

30 credits
Global Justice

What are the demands of justice at the global level? On this module we will examine this question from the perspective of analytic, Anglo-American political philosophy. We will start by looking at some debates about the nature of global justice, such as whether justice demands the eradication of global inequalities. We will then turn to various questions of justice that arise at the global level, potentially including: how jurisdiction over territory might be justified; whether states have a right to exclude would-be immigrants; whether reparations are owed for past international injustices such as colonialism; and how to identify responsibilities for combating global injustice.

30 credits
Philosophy of Law

Law is a pervasive feature of modern societies and governs most aspects of our lives. This module is about some of the philosophical questions raised by life under a legal system. The first part of the module investigates the nature of law. Is law simply a method of social control? For example, the group calling itself Islamic State issued commands over a defined territory and backed up these commands with deadly force. Was that a legal system? Or is law necessarily concerned with justice? Do legal systems contain only rules or do they also contain underlying principles? Is “international law” really law?
The second part of the module investigates the relationship between law and individual rights. What kinds of laws should we have? Do we have the moral right to break the law through acts of civil disobedience? What is the justification of punishment? Is there any justification for capital punishment? Are we right to legally differentiate between intended crimes (like murder) and unintended crimes (like manslaughter), or does this involve the unjustified punishment of “thought crime”? Are we right to legally differentiate between murder and attempted murder, despite the fact that both crimes involve the same intent to kill?

30 credits
The Political Philosophy of Climate Change

Why is climate change a problem of global justice and how could the international community address this problem fairly? In this course we will look at various questions of justice that climate change raises and examine how political philosophers have attempted to answer them. Topics to be considered may include: historical responsibility for climate change, duties regarding future generations, the problem of allocating the burdens of addressing climate change, natural resource justice, the rights of indigenous peoples, moral issues concerning territorial loss or displacement, and the politics of geoengineering the planet.

30 credits

Politics optional modules:

Freedom

Freedom is one of the most important political values, if not the most important one of all. This module investigates the political value of freedom via an engagement with the literature in contemporary political theory. To do so it focuses on: competing theories of freedom (negative, positive, republican); the relationship between freedom and other values (autonomy, equality, security); and a number of applied issues (the harm principle, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement). The approach is theoretical and philosophical with the overall aim being to equip students to analyse and evaluate political arguments which invoke the value of freedom.

30 credits
Capitalism and Crisis

This module explores the relationship between capitalism and crisis through the prism of the causes of and fallout from the 2008 crash. Part 1 introduces and unpacks the core concepts of the module - capitalism, crisis - and presents a brief historical overview of pre-2008 economic crises in order to provide some necessary context and comparison points. Part 2 surveys competing explanations of the 2008 crisis, by starting narrow (i.e. regulation of banking) and then broadening out (i.e. evolution of capitalism). Part 3 examines the fallout from the 2008 crisis, including the extent to which the crisis was truly global and the variety of political responses to the crash.

30 credits
Democratic Governance in the 21st Century: Problems, Innovations and Solutions

Political systems around the world strive to be democratic, but what is meant by democracy and how this can be achieved? This module considers the nature of the democratic crisis faced by countries around the world and maps the latest innovations designed to address this challenge. Students will study tensions between new and old democratic arenas and consider the indicators of a thriving democracy. The module is grounded in the tradition of engaged scholarship and uses real world examples and solution focused analysis. Students will develop keen professional and research skills by studying the theory and practice of democratic innovation.

30 credits
Contemporary Global Security

This module examines responses at state, regional and international level to key security challenges. It focuses primarily on the post-Cold War setting, the types of security challenges that have developed and the responses to them at state, regional and international level. It analyses the role played by international organisations and develops case analyses of key international security crises that represent or reflect important dimensions of contemporary global security. These could include, for example, the crisis in ex-Yugoslavia, the Rwandan crisis, the first and second Gulf wars and the conflict in Afghanistan. Attention will also be directed to the role and development of key international security organisations, particularly the United Nations.

30 credits
Feminist and Decolonizing Approaches to International Relations: Bodies, Coloniality, Knowledge

This module problematizes core IR concepts and themes through an alternative 'geopolitics of knowledge' that comprises postcolonial, decolonial, feminist and queer, Marxist and post-Marxist approaches to IR theory. The first part provides an understanding of key moments, processes, actors and practices in the emergence of the modern system of sovereign states. The second part interrogates key concepts and themes in IR, including violence, the body, capitalism, globalization, sovereignty and anarchy, hierarchy and hegemony/empire, and indigeneity. In place of the 'West versus the Rest', the module will examine the imperial dimension of these themes while revealing the mutually constitutive relations between metropoles/colonies in the formation of modernity both materially and ideationally.

30 credits
Global Politics of Climate Change

This module explores the politics of global anthropogenic climate change, one of the central challenges – if not the single greatest challenge – of our age. By combining theoretical, case study and normative analysis, you will consider the nature and causes of climate change; global, national and local attempts to limit and mitigate it; its current and projected future impacts; and the possibilities of climate change adaptation. Topics discussed will range from the UN climate regime to Extinction Rebellion, from the origins of our global fossil fuel economy to the politics of renewables, and from ‘climate refugees’ to the political economy of carbon offsetting.

30 credits
Global Health and Global Politics

Situated within contemporary approaches to International Relations and International Political Economy, this module will introduce students to the global politics of health, addressing health as both a global issue, and also as a quintessentially political one. The module will: chart the recent rise of health as an issue of 'high politics'; examine the relationship between individual and population health and the global political economy; explore the ways in which and institutions by which health is governed at the global level; analyse some of the key contemporary issues and challenges in contemporary global health governance.

30 credits
Human Rights

The module offers a critical engagement with the key debates in the theory and practice of human rights. The first section of the module examines the very idea of human rights, asking how human rights ought to be defined, and whether they can or ought to be morally justified. It also looks at some important challenges to the idea of human rights: namely that they are ethnocentric, superficial, and have become instruments of power. The second section explores some specific controversies in human rights practice: including such issues as how they are best protected, whether they can tackle such global problems as poverty and environmental degradation, and whether their violation can provide a justification for military intervention.

30 credits
Liberalism

It is regularly said that liberal politics is now facing the greatest set of challenges across the world since the end of World War II. In this context it is more important than ever to understand precisely what liberalism is. What exactly are liberal politics? How does it differ from other political ideologies? Why are the values and commitments that underpin liberalism, and what sort of institutions and practices are associated with it? And we shall ask questions of it such as whether it has an insufficient account of freedom, or how, if at all, it ought to respond to the problems generated by the vast diversity within contemporary societies. We shall explore these questions via looking at several of the key debates within the tradition of liberal political theory within the last few decades, including how we should understand liberty and its limits, the nature of equality, the challenge posed by multiculturalism, and whether liberalism is an essentially cosmopolitan or nationalist creed.

30 credits
International Political Sociology of Civil Wars

Based on contemporary approaches to International Relations and Political Sociology, this module will introduce students to the politics of civil war, the dominant form of armed conflict today. The module will open with an overview of international conflict trends and the debate on the 'new' versus 'old' nature of present-day wars. The second part will focus on structural determinants of the cross-national and sub-national variation in civil wars. The remainder will explore the micro-level foundations of fighting, from the 'greed' versus 'grievance' and 'opportunity' versus 'motivation' debates, to the complex interaction of rationalist and constructivist mechanisms of mobilization and recruitment.

30 credits
Terrorism and Political Violence

This module produces a critical take on security and violence, combining Sociological and International Relations approaches, and applying them to cases ranging from the 'macro-level' (war, including guerrilla warfare/insurgency; genocide and most especially terrorism) through to 'micro-level' sites usually considered 'private' or 'intimate' ('domestic' violence, white supremacist bombing of historical Black churches, etc).

30 credits
Development and the State

This module will explore and critically assess the political economy of development. It does so by focusing on the interplay between processes of economic transformation and the political strategies pursued by states in the name of national development. The module is interdisciplinary, drawing on development studies, the political economy of growth and transformation, and comparative capitalisms. Part one reviews the most salient theoretical themes in approaches to capitalist development. This will put students in a position to understand more specific theorisations of capitalist development as a state strategy in a world characterised by uneven and combined capitalist development. Part two focuses more specifically on the state. This section will bring the more generic issues reviewed in Part One into a focused 'developmental' framing. Part three will open up to more ambitious evaluative work in which normative questions are asked and the prospects for capitalist development are contested.

30 credits
Chinese Politics and Policy

This module focuses on the latest political developments in the People’s Republic of China. It starts by putting contemporary Chinese politics into historical context and introducing students to key institutions in the PRC, including the Chinese Communist Party and the state. It then focuses on important current academic debates related to Chinese politics, including the resilience of China’s authoritarian political system and the implications of Xi Jinping's rise to power. This course also examines key governance challenges in China, including those related to pollution, social stability, and the economy.

30 credits
Policy-Making in the Real World

Policy making is an increasingly complex process, involving a range of 'wicked problems' and a growing set of options for addressing them. Given the multiple risks and crises they must deal with, how can policy makers come up with effective policy, learn from mistakes and deal with unexpected events? What tools can they employ to do so and how can we evaluate their success or failure? This unit will provide a theoretically informed, but practice-focused approach to these questions. Students will gain a range of practical skills through innovative group projects and visiting speakers from the policy world.

30 credits
The Governance and Politics of the European Union

This module examines the history and development of the European Union, together with the institutions and decision-making processes of the community. It examines various theoretical perspectives on the process of European integration, evaluates selected policy sectors, particularly those sectors which are relevant for understanding the political economy of European integration such as the internal market and monetary union.

30 credits
Political Economy of Global Environmental change

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the major debates in the political economy of the environment. It will examine central debates around climate change, the Anthropocene, the commons, the green economy, biodiversity loss, population, sustainability and environment induced conflict. These debates will be examined by analysing the different approaches to tackling global environmental change. Therefore, the course will explore the debates about the political economy of global environmental change at various scales including international, regional, national and local scales, and as well as managing the commons and how individuals might engage in forms of environmental self regulation/self- limiting behaviours. The course will also make use of specific case studies to illuminate the wider conceptual debates.

30 credits
Wellbeing in Politics and Policy

There has been a dramatic rise in political interest in wellbeing over the past decade. Politicians and policy-makers in a range of contexts - national and international - have moved towards embracing wellbeing as a more comprehensive, inclusive and appropriate goal of public policy than the traditionally narrow focus on indicators of economic prosperity. This has led to the development of wellbeing frameworks that embrace indicators of subjective wellbeing (e.g., happiness), environmental and social concerns alongside economic indicators. For some these developments have the potential to transform aspects of politics and policy in the long term. This module explores conceptual, empirical and policy-related aspects of wellbeing. It examines competing definitions, understandings and measurements of wellbeing and related concepts such as quality of life and happiness. It aims to give students a clear understanding of how and why wellbeing has risen up political agendas, the significance of developments in policy to date and the potential for wellbeing as a political idea and guide to policy.

30 credits

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

Teaching

You’ll learn through lectures, seminars and tutorials. 

Dr Alasdair Cochrane

Our masters courses are so exciting because you’ll have the opportunity to develop a genuine specialism in your area of study. As researchers it’s a real pleasure to share your latest work—in my case, on the political theory of animal rights—with students who are eager to learn and challenge!

Dr Alasdair Cochrane
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics

Duration

  • 1 year full-time
  • 2 years part-time

Entry requirements

You’ll need a first-class or 2:1 honours degree from a UK university, or an equivalent grade from overseas.

A degree in philosophy, politics or a related subject is preferred, though we will consider applicants from a wide range of disciplines, particularly if they can demonstrate other experience relevant to the programme.

Overall IELTS score of 6.5 overall with 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.

Fees and funding

If you qualify, you may be able to get financial support through the University's studentships and fee waivers.

Department's postgraduate funding opportunities page

Apply

You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

Apply now

Contact

phi-pgadmissions@sheffield.ac.uk
+44 114 222 0587

politics-admissions@sheffield.ac.uk
+44 114 222 1641

Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

Explore this course:

    Dr Alasdair Cochrane

    Our masters courses are so exciting because you’ll have the opportunity to develop a genuine specialism in your area of study. As researchers it’s a real pleasure to share your latest work—in my case, on the political theory of animal rights—with students who are eager to learn and challenge!

    Dr Alasdair Cochrane
    Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics
    PHIT02 Off