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Department of Politics and International Studies

Comparative International Political Thought

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Term 2

This course is intended to serve as an introduction to the comparative study of international political thought. The course will open with a consideration of what counts as ‘international political thought’. Why is so much of what passes as ‘international’ political thought of European or Western provenance? Do the very categories of ‘West’ and its rather inchoate other—‘non-West’—make sense, given the complicated genealogies and itineraries of political thinking across lines of geography and ideology? In keeping with this scepticism of regional ‘traditions’ of thought, the course will be organised conceptually, with the discussion each week attempting to bring different strands of international political thought into conversation with one another around a central concept.

The arrangement of topics in the course list is intended to foreground the different sorts of methodological challenges that one might encounter in endeavouring to compare political thought. A first cluster of topics (2-4) compares thinkers who might roughly be considered contemporaries. Although differently located in terms of geography and ideology, they might be thought to be grappling with a common world conjuncture, which they nonetheless perceive and respond to in different ways. In the second cluster of topics (5-9) the comparison operates across both space and time, making it especially crucial to consider whether different worldviews are premised on a common ontology (i.e. we need to ask whether the thinkers being compared share a common object of analysis).  

Substantively, the topics covered by the course span a range of concerns that have typically been placed within the realm of ‘political’ thinking. We will be comparing thinking about justice: what forms of consciousness have been thought to be most conducive to liberation and emancipation in different places and times? How is the scope of justice imagined? What significance is accorded to locality and globality in different conceptions of justice? What anxieties underpin contemporary ‘fundamentalisms’ and what sorts of utopias do they strive towards? We will also be comparing thinking about conflict: how similar and different are the motivations, justifications, strategies and tactics underpinning and informing theorisations of war that emanate from different parts of the world as well as from different ideological formations? In a course of this kind, it will be especially important to problematise conceptions of ‘the political’ and to think carefully about how such conceptions may differ across space and time.

Method of assessment

Assessment is 70% coursework, 20% seminar presentation and 10% seminar participation