Political Theory, Race and Empire

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

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


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 2 hour seminar per week

Method of assessment

  • Assignment 1: 20%
  • Assignment 2: 80%

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)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules