SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Political Theory, Race and Empire

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module seeks to provide PG students in Comparative Political Thought and other interested students at the department a substantial background in political theory and approaches to the analysis of political thought. It works slowly and closely on some key texts in the history of political thought, and situates them in their global, racial, economic, and gendered contexts by considering questions of empire, class, slavery, location, and more. At the same time, and as part of an effort to re-think the curriculum, the module undoes distinctions between “primary” and “secondary” readings on several levels (see below).

The module will be divided into three units dedicated to key thinkers: Locke and liberalism, Hegel and dialectical thought, and Marx and materialism. Each unit will be spread over three weeks.  Seemingly, the first week of every unit is dedicated to a “primary” source that would (presumably) be read on its own terms, whilst the second and third weeks are dedicated to a critical “reflection” of the first text. But the history of political thought has always developed via reflections on previous texts, and the writings “on” (on Locke, on Kant, on Plato) have in some cases become later a “primary text” (Marx is a critic of Hegel etc.). The texts chosen for the second week of every unit are at least as theoretically sophisticated as the texts they reflect on, and will be read in this module as a “primary” source as well. This is part of the rationale behind reading entire monographs also for the second half of each unit.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Acquire familiarity with some foundations of political thought that is largely lacking among our PG students.
  • Engage critically with the cannon of political of political thought; Contextualize and question the cannon
  • Develop analytical skills and reading strategies to allow deep engagement with theoretically sophisticated (and challenging) material 
  • Acquire familiarity with some of the most recent work in decolonial and postcolonial theory


  • Two-hour seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

  • Introduction:
  • 1.1 Locke and liberalism
  • 1.2 Liberalism and Empire
  • 1.3 Lock in America
  • 2.1 Hegel and dialectics
  • 2.2 The Dialectic of the Colonized
  • 2.3 Hegel in Haiti
  • 4.1 Marx: materialism and revolution
  • 4.2 Revolutionizing freedom
  • 4.3 Marx in the Atlantic

Method of assessment

Assessment is 80% Coursework (comprising one 3000 words essay) and 20% Critical commentary ( 700 words).

Suggested reading

  • Locke, John, Second Treatise of Government (in: Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, Yale UP, 2003) Selected Chapters
  • Sartori , Andrew, Liberalism in Empire: An Alternative History (UC Press, 2014)
  • Arneil, Barbara. John Locke and America (Oxford 1996)
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich “Bondship and Bondage” (in The Phenomenology of Spirit)
  • Fanon, Frantz Black Skin White Masks New Edition (Blackwell, 2017)
  • Buck-Morss, Susan, Hegel, Haiti and Universal History (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)
  • Marx, Karl, “The Jewish Question” and “The Communist Manifesto”
  • Roberts, Neil. Freedom as Marronage (University of Chicago Press, 2015)
  • Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic (Verso, 1993)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules