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State, Power, Freedom: European Political Theory

Programme overview

This module provides an introduction to some of the most important themes and key thinkers of European political theory in the 20th and 21st century. The module is looking at a number of related questions:

who has and who exercises power, what does it do, and how can we challenge it?what is freedom, who is free, and what are the constraints on our freedom?what is the state, what does it do, and how can we resist it?

To see how those questions have been raised, understood and debated, we will concentrate on three main thinkers – Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre and Giorgio Agamben. In the opening three weeks we will discuss other figures including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Louis Althusser and Hannah Arendt.

Each week we will focus on carefully selected readings, which will be examined closely, and read in relation to pressing political concerns of their, and our, time. It will be important to come to class having done the reading and with notes of issues, questions and key things to discuss.

It is important to underline that is not abstract, detached philosophy. Foucault wrote about prisons historically, but also was engaged in protest movements and pressure groups about prisons in France. Lefebvre’s ideas inspired his students to take part in the May 1968 protests in Paris. Louis Althusser is an inspiration for some of the thinkers and activists involved in Occupy; Sartre and de Beauvoir thought about the French resistance and de Beauvoir inspired modern feminism. Fanon’s work was about the Algerian war and other struggles for independence. Agamben has written about the war on terror.

Module Director:

Stuart Elden