The MSc in Political Thought builds on SOAS’s wealth of regional expertise to offer a new approach to the study of political thought. It promotes the study of political theory as it is tightly linked to practices of global domination and resistance. The degree considers political theory as it emerges from and is linked to everyday political thinking, philosophical texts, or cultural production. Beyond the regions and traditions that have conventionally framed comparative work in political theory, this degree is unique in teaching students to see how concepts “travel” across the world as a means to examine both political thought and political practice in different times and spaces, with a focus on SOAS’s traditional regions: Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The degree programme introduces students to the key approaches, debates, and questions in the emerging sub-discipline of comparative political thought. At the same time, it provides thorough background in canonical political theory, albeit reconsidered through the political frameworks of imperialism, colonialism, and racial capitalism. Covering a range of thinkers, traditions and texts, it provides learning opportunities for students to compare ideas and values across regions and historical periods, and to place those ideas in global contexts.
Start of programme: September
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
Who is this programme for?:
The MSc in Political Thought is designed for students who wish to gain a deeper understanding of political theory in its global context, or to learn about the diverse strands of political thinking in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and the different approaches to comparison in political thought. It prepares students for further advanced study and research in political thought, and enhances analytical and communication skills suitable for employment in multicultural and international professional contexts. As such, this programme is highly relevant for students who wish to pursue doctoral studies in political theory and other subject areas in the Social Sciences and the Humanities. It is also relevant for practitioners working in or intending to work in governments, international organizations, think tanks and advocacy groups who wish to acquire deeper knowledge of ideas and values that inform political practices in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
- We will consider all applications with 2:ii (or international equivalent) or higher. In addition to degree classification we take into account other elements of the application including supporting statement and references.
- One calendar year (full-time); Two or three years (part-time, daytime only)
Introducing the MSc Comparative Political Thought
Dr. Matthew Nelson, Reader in Politics explains why the MSc Comparative Political Thought is particularly relevant to the world we live in today.
What does the programme involve?
This is a cutting-edge programme that pushes the boundaries of contemporary political theory. In this programme, we build on SOAS’s unrivalled area-studies expertise to take a much broader view of ‘political thinking’ beyond the canonised texts of Western political philosophy. In particular, we consider a much wider range of source material for the study of political ideas (manifestos, grassroots thinking, art, protest, and so on). And, of course, at SOAS, we do this with special reference to the most powerful political ideas of the Middle East, Africa, Asia (Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia).
Along the way, we compare Western and non-Western ideas while, at the same time, considering comparisons that do not consider Western political concepts at all. We believe our approach to the field of political theory rejuvenates the field and makes it more relevant to the world we live in today.
What kind of students will the programme appeal to?
This programme typically appeals to those who see a link between their prior work in political theory and patterns of thinking in non-Western contexts. It is particularly attractive to students who ask questions about how today’s political ideas around the world underpin political action: How do ideas, ideologies, concepts, and patterns of political criticism travel from one country or region to another? How do different cultural contexts ‘share’ political ideas (or not)—for example, ideas about justice, equality, rebellion, or corruption?
Typically, the students who join this programme understand that “ideas can change the world”; and they want to understand how this process occurs.
What is special about the programme at SOAS?
SOAS itself is unique—our global student body, multi-disciplinary approach, critical and questioning attitude moves well beyond the focus on basic ‘skills training’ found in so many other programmes.
With reference to political theory, we do not ignore the Western canon that figures so prominently (almost exclusively) in other programmes. Instead, we engage the Western canon, build on it, and critically examine it, situating it in a fresh approach to political theory that does not automatically assume its primacy. SOAS is uniquely positioned to illuminate patterns of political thinking in Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India (to name a tiny cross-section of the countries that interest our students). No other programme in political theory is positioned to access the study of these enormously diverse ideas as well as SOAS.
Students on the MSc Comparative Political Thought programme are trained to understand and engage the ideas that animate politics in most of the world.
Can you recommend a good book to read on Comparative Political Thought?
There are so many! To begin, one might consider a recent edited volume by Professor Michael Freedon—for many years a Professor of Political Theory at Oxford and now a Research Associate at SOAS working closely with our Comparative Political Thought cluster:
Michael Freeden and Andrew Vincent, eds., Comparative Political Thought: Theorizing Practices (Routledge, 2013)
What do students do after graduating?
Many of the students who complete our MSc in Comparative Political Thought plan to carry on with advanced research—often in a Political Theory PhD programme. A growing number, however, also pursue careers requiring high-level skills in cross-cultural engagement and communication: in government, diplomacy, international advocacy, activism, and the media. Journalists, political leaders, and those engaged in countless private and public-sector roles (corporate communications, intelligence, education, and international trade) understand that translating ideas, concepts, and values across cultural and political contexts is essential. Our graduates put this skill into practice.
Teaching & Learning
The MSc in Political Thought has two core 15 credit modules that all students registered for the degree will undertake: Approaches to Comparative Political Thought & Political Theory, Race and Empire. Students then choose modules equivalent to 90 credits from a list of optional modules (outlined below), and complete a dissertation based on independent study and research (equivalent to a further module).
Students must take 180 credits comprised of 120 taught credits (including core and option modules) and a 60 credit dissertation.
- Familiarity with the main approaches in the emerging sub-field of comparative political thought, including different understandings of ‘comparison’ and ‘thought’;
- Advanced understanding of some of the philosophical, historical, political and linguistic issues that arise in the study of non-Western political thought;
- In-depth knowledge of some key political concepts (eg. state, authority, individual, community), as understood by political thinkers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East;
- An understanding of political thought not simply as articulated by elite intellectuals, but also as ideas in action, manifested in political practices at different levels of society.
Intellectual (thinking) skills
- To analyse and evaluate competing approaches to comparative political thought;
- To conceptualise the main issues and problems that arise in the comparative study of political thought;
- To develop in-depth understanding of aspects of non-Western political thought;
- To develop intellectual initiative and skills to compare political ideas across cultural and historical boundaries, identifying and evaluating similarities and differences;
- To formulate research questions and hypotheses.
Subject-based practical skills
- To identify, analyse and evaluate core arguments in theoretical materials from a variety of sources;
- To develop skills to work creatively and flexibly across different disciplines and regional traditions;
- To organise information in a lucid, coherent, concise, and clear form in written as well as oral presentations;
- To develop initiative and capacity to work independently on research questions and to adjust hypotheses and approach in the light of work undertaken for the dissertation.
- To retrieve, select, digest and analyse complex information from a variety of sources.
- To structure and communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing.
- To work effectively in and contribute to meetings, by presenting, listening to and discussing ideas introduced during meetings.
- To manage time effectively.