Comparative International Political Thought

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This course provides an opportunity for the comparative study of political thought on ‘the international’, with a focus on the postcolonial world. It is a core course for students enrolled on the MSc Comparative Political Thought, functioning as the substantive counterpart to the more methodologically oriented Approaches to Comparative Political Thought. This course gives students a number of substantive contexts in which to engage in comparative political theoretic analysis and to discover what is at stake in such analyses. It allows students to hone the methodological skills that they have acquired in the ACPT course through comparative investigations of key concepts in political thought across ideological and other intellectual traditions. For students not enrolled in the MSc Comparative Political Thought, the course works well as an introduction to the comparative study of political thought on ‘the international’. It will be of interest to students keen to undertake work in political theory outside the Western canon, as well as those interested in the intellectual project of decolonising international relations.

Conventional readings of ‘the international’ in political theory and international relations regard this as a social construction of a European society of states that was then universalised as a result of imperialism. In this narrative, the entry of the non-European world was momentous for its expansion of international society rather than for any fundamental transformation of the terms or categories of that society. This course takes a sceptical view of the conventional wisdom.

A first cluster of topics investigates key categories that are used to make sense of political thought, asking whether there is agreement on the very interpretive categories that are typically deployed for this purpose. Here we will ask what it means to think comparatively across space and whether time can be thought of in ways outside the mode of historicism. We will explore what it means to understand political thought as ‘ethical’ rather than ‘political’, as ‘secular’ rather than ‘religious’, as ‘nationalist’ or ‘cosmopolitan’, and, more fundamentally, whether the distinctions commonly posited between these categories make sense from non-Western vantage points.

A second cluster of topics will focus more particularly on the ‘entry’ of various marginalised subjectivities into international society. Here we will look comparatively at a range of struggles organised around nation, class, religion, race, caste, indigeneity, gender and sexuality, to ask a number of important questions. How—that is, from what premises and with what categories—do these struggles diagnose the conditions of oppression against which they resist? How do they imagine the ‘good life’ or the utopias towards which they strive? What mechanisms do they advocate to make possible the difficult journey from here to there? What do they have to say about the (im)permissibility of violence in political life? What role is envisaged for the ‘international’ in these struggles? How might the international relate to other normative spatial allegiances such as the local and cosmopolitan?

Although the categories West/Europe/non-West form a point of departure for the course, we will also ask whether these categories—understood geographically or geopolitically— are useful, given the complicated genealogies and itineraries of political thinking across boundaries. In an effort to problematise received ‘traditions’ of thought, the course will be organised conceptually, with the discussion each week attempting to bring different traditions into conversation with one another around a central concept or problem.


  • Two-hour seminar per week

Method of assessment

Assessment is 80% coursework (consisting of two assignments, a 4000-word essay at 60% and a 1000-word essay at 20%), and 20% in-class presentation.


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