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 a substantial background in political theory, and to engage in real-world 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.

The module is divided into three units dedicated to key thinkers. These may include: Locke and liberalism, Hegel and dialectical thought, Marx and materialism/racial capitalism, or Foucault and Poststructuralism. Each unit is spread over three weeks. In each unit we will read (i) some primary texts of the aforementioned key thinker; (ii) some historical interpretations that situate his writing within a global reality of colonisation, racial hierarchies, and other forms of oppression, thereby taking philosophy out of the abstract domains in which it is often read and into the real world; and (iii) a philosophical development of the relevant tradition, that is embedded from the outset in those realities (so, for example, with Hegel we shall read Fanon, with Foucault we shall read Mbembe, etc.).
We shall thus track political thought as it develops from concrete questions of global orders of occupation, enslavement, dispossession, or hierarchization.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

• Engage critically with the canon of political of political thought; Contextualise and question the canon
• 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