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Annual Course Review 1998-99

MA in Social and Political Thought


Robert Fine

10 February 2000

1. Course structure

Convenor: Peter Wagner (Autumn term) and Kyriaki Goudeli (Spring and Summer terms)

Recognised by ESRC as 'S'.

This inter-disciplinary programme offers a comprehensive coverage of contemporary European and American social theory. It links the classical traditions of social and political thought to contemporary debates over modernity and post-modernity, feminism, post-structuralism, post-Marxism and the possibility of critical theory today. The programme is largely text-based and is designed to encourage students to struggle with often quite difficult materials. Our aim is to help them develop on the one hand a deep understanding of the issues addressed and the ways of thinking through which they are addressed, and on the other their own independent judgement in relation to their reading. Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds – disciplinary, occupational and national – and the programme is aimed at drawing on the strengths of this diversity and encouraging productive dialogue among them.

The courses offered on our programme this year were:

The Sociology of Modernity 1 and 11 (Prof. Wagner)

Critical and Deconstructive Social Theory (Prof. Wagner)

Modern European Thought 1 and 11 (Dr Goudeli).

Marx’s Social Theory 1 and 11 (Prof. Clarke)

The Sociology of the Holocaust (Dr Turner)

Feminist Media Studies (Dr Steinberg)

Philosophy and Social Theory (Mr Cruickshank)

State and Civil Society (Mr Mouzakitis and Mr Ye Mint)

Dr Fine was on sabbatical in terms one and two. Dr Turner was on sabbatical in terms two and three. Special teaching arrangements were made with students taking courses taught by Prof. Wagner after he began his leave of absence at the European University Institute at Florence. Mr Cruickshank, Mr Mouzakitis and Mr Ye Myint are all doctoral students engaged in part time teaching.

In the first term students took The Sociology of Modernity 1 (Prof. Wagner) and Modern European Thought 1 (Dr Goudeli). They chose another module from the list of options offered within the Social and Political Thought programme or with permission they could take an outside option. In the second term students took any of the options offered within the Social and Political Thought programme or with permission they could take an outside option. In the third term students finished their assessments and prepared for their dissertations under individual supervision. They complete their dissertations over the summer with continuing supervision.

Teaching took the form of two-hour seminars which involved strong student participation, including leading off discussions and speaking to seminar papers. There were also many informal meetings between staff and individual students to discuss their work.

2. Admissions

The Social and Political Thought MA has proved to be an attractive course for British, European foreign and non-European foreign students. Applicants with good degrees in any Arts or Social Science subject are encouraged to apply. This year the admissions were as follows:


UK/EU OS Total


Applications 13 0 11 0 24

Offers 13 0 11 0 24

Intake 9 0 4* 0 13

* 1 student transferred during 1st term from PST to SPT

The intake for 1999-00 was as follows:

UK/EU OS Total


Applications 21 1 12 0 34

Offers 21 1 9 0 31

Intake 7 1 2 0 10

In 1998-99 the admissions tutor was the convenor of the course, Professor Wagner. After his departure it was Dr Goudeli. It is now the new convenor, Dr Fine. The award of the ESRC studentship was decided by the convenor with the advice of other members of staff.

 3. Outcomes

The results were encouraging.


3 MAs were awarded, 1 of which was a distinction.


14 MAs were awarded.

In both years all the students who took the course were awarded their MA. The external examiner’s reports have consistently ben full of praise for the work done by the students.

4. Objectives

The objectives of this programme were that by its end students would gain

a) a solid grounding in the classical and modern traditions of social and political thought

b) from the core modules an in-depth knowledge of the sociology of modernity and of modern European thought

c) from the options knowledge in up to five of the following areas: the tradition of political thought from the enlightenment to Weber, Marx’s social theory, critical and deconstructive social theory, feminist media studies, the sociology of the holocaust, the idea of Europe, the philosophy of science and the social sciences, and the agency-structure debate. They may have taken one specialist module from outside of these areas.

d) skills in conceptual analysis, critical theorising, in the judgement and synthesis of competing ideas, in the writing of authoritative, solidly grounded and innovative essays, and in the carrying out and writing up of sustained research for their dissertation.

e) more specialist skills in exploring and understanding relationships between sociological, economic and political thought, the social foundations of modern political life, and the political foundations of the modern idea of society.

These objectives were monitored in part through the system of examination and in part through informal assessment of student participation in seminars.

5. The system of examination

Students wrote one 5000 word essay for each module and one 10,000 dissertation under individual supervision. The essays and dissertations were marked by two internal examiners, including the module tutor and dissertation supervisor, provisional marks and written comments from both internal examiners were returned to the students, and all essays and dissertations were sent to the external examiner for final vetting before the examination board.

6. Student support and guidance

Each student on the programme received individual guidance from the convenor of the programme, from his or her module tutor, and from his or her dissertation supervisor. Students for whom English is a second language and who have not reached the required level of proficiency, take a pre-sessional English language course. Students with personal problems have access to the pastoral facilities of the Senior Tutor’s office of the University and of the Students Union. The students were given excellent access to computer facilities and to training programmes.

7. Quality Assurance

There was a continuous process of monitoring quality on each module and for the programme generally. This was ensured through a) regular meetings among staff teaching on the programme; and b) student review and feedback sessions. Each module had its own method of student feedback, which took the form of either written or oral assessments. In addition, there were SSLC meetings held for students and staff to discuss the programme as a whole and any problems that might be arising.

8. The Social Theory Centre

Students taking the MA in Social and Political Thought benefited from close relations between the MA and the Centre for Social Theory. This thriving Centre put on regular seminars in Social and Political Thought. Together with the Critical Social Theory Centre at the University of Sussex, it publishes an in-house journal called warwick and sussex papers in social theory. This included papers by staff, visiting academics and graduate students. It organised an annual social theory lecture with a distinguished visiting speaker (Professor Hans Joas) and work in progress seminars designed for graduate students. It held a series of six ESRC-sponsored Research Seminars in conjunction with the Centre for Critical Social Theory at the University of Sussex, on the theme of Social Theory and Major Social Transformations. This involved both staff and students from both institutions as well as guest speakers

The Social and Political Thought Seminar Series has particularly close links with the MA in Social and Political Thought. It was open to all students and staff. It was organised and chaired by students, with the assistance of the teaching staff, and we invited many guest speakers. from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds. The Seminars, which usually took place on Monday evenings, comprised a paper followed by open and critical discussion. As well as aiming to offer a means of exchange of opinions, these evenings also offered an opportunity for students to socialise with the speakers and with one another after the event.

9. Teaching and research

These connections between the MA in Social and Political Thought and the Social Theory Centre were one way in which links between teaching and research are consolidated. For example, the ESRC sponsored seminar on Social Theory after the Holocaust was attended by many students on the MA. It has led to an edited collection due to be published shortly and this collection is now feeding into the MA module on the Sociology of the Holocaust. The teaching staff have regularly converted materials which they teach into monographs or articles and have used their most recent research in their teaching.

10. Material resources

The students benefited from the relocation of the Sociology department to the new Ramphal building in October 1996. The teaching resources of the Ramphal building include the Gillian Rose seminar room, a small graduate common room, and class rooms and audio-visual equipment also used by other departments.

Library facilities in this area are quite well established and no major difficulties are encountered. There is a slight dearth of recent American and continental literature in the areas of social theory but the librarians are very helpful in trying to overcome difficulties. The need was expressed that teaching staff continue to be active in urging the library to acquire recent books and periodicals in this area

11. External assessment

The programme continues to be subjected to rigorous external assessment. The teaching and learning practices for the degree were assessed in 1996 under the Teaching Quality Assessment of Sociology. The maximum score of 24 was awarded. Quality assurance is also undertaken through the External Examiner(s). The role of the External Examiner is to ensure fairness and quality in teaching and assessment, to adjudicate in cases of disagreement between internal examiners, and to ensure compatibility with graduate programmes at higher education institutions elsewhere in the UK. The External Examiner in 1998-99 continued to be Prof. Theo Nichols. His report for this year is attached.

12. Recent developments

At the end of this academic year 1998-99 Prof Wagner went on a four year leave of absence to the European University Institute in Florence. Prof Archer went on a three year leave of absence to take up a senior ESRC Fellowship. Prof Fuller was appointed to the department or sociology and became convenor of the MA in Philosophy and Social Theory as well as teaching options on the Social and Political Thought Programme. Dr Fine became convenor of the MA in Social and Political Thought.

In the light of these staff changes, as well as in the spirit of opening the curriculum up to more integration with other sociology MAs, it was decided to introduce certain changes to the curriculum of the Programme. They are as follows:

Term One: All students will take a new course called Politics and Social Theory 1 plus two options from Marx’s Social Theory 1, Modern European Thought 1, Sociology of Modernity 1, Philosophy and Social Theory 1, Feminist Media Studies or, with permission, an outside option.

Term two: All students will take three of the following options: Politics and Social Theory 11 Marx’s Social Theory 11, Modern European Thought 11, Sociology of Modernity 11, Philosophy and Social Theory 11, The Idea of Europe, the Sociology of the Holocaust, Critical and Deconstructive Social Theory, or, with permission, one outside option.

The new modules, Politics and Social Theory 1 and 2, will be taught by Dr Fine. It replaces State and Civil Society. The idea behind the new course is to introduce students to social theories of modern political life. The course is inter-disciplinary in the sources we use and draws on the disciplines of sociology, politics, law and philosophy. The students are involved in developing an approach to social theorising that attempts to bridge the gap between social theories which neglect the political and political theories which neglect the social.

In the first term, which is the core course on the MA in Social and Political Thought and available to other students, we explore first, the tradition of political thought which begins with the enlightenment; second, Hegel’s critique of enlightenment politics; third, Marx’s critique of Hegel and displacement of politics; fourth, Weber’s critique of Marx and sociology of the modern state; and finally the relation between the modern idea of politics which runs through this tradition and the ancient idea of politics in Greek thought. Key texts include: Kant, Political Writings, Cambridge: CUP, 1970; Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Clarendon, 1977; Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: CUP, 1991; Marx, Marx’s Early Writings, ed. L Colletti, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1998; Marx Capital Vol.1, Harmondsworth,: Penguin, 1976; Weber, Political Writings, Cambridge: CUP, 1994; Weber, The Russian Revolutions, Cambridge: Polity, 1995.

In the second term, which is an option on the MA in Social and Political Thought, we focus on the impact of totalitarianism on contemporary political thought and study the main currents of post-war political thought from this vantage point. The course begins with a consideration of the totalitarian phenomenon in its various shapes, and then moves on to consider key ‘antidotes’ to totalitarian ways of thinking within social theory. These include neo-Aristotelian politics, neo-Marxism, post-structuralism, civil society theory, post-modern ethics and theories of radical democracy. Key texts include: Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973; Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge: Polity, 1989; Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. P. Rabinow, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1991; Arendt, On Revolution, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990; Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, Oxford: Polity, 1996; Held, Democracy and the Global Order: Cambridge: Polity, 1995.

Report of the MA in Social and Political Thought SSLC Meeting

Held in the Gillian Rose Seminar Room, 1-3 p.m. 9 Feb 2000

Present: Robert Fine (chair), Simon Clarke, Kakia Goudeli, Justine Donaldson, David Wager, Rolando Vazquez, Daniela Vicherat, Simon Campbell

Apologies: Gloesha Challice, Sascia Grillo

1. The draft report for 1998-99 was read and approved.

2. It was requested that the procedures in case of failing an essay or the dissertation should be clearly made available to the students.

3. It was requested that the Professional Writing Skills handbook be distributed to all MA students.

4. The existing mixture of methods of student feedback on the modules was found to work well. It was requested that module tutors arrange in advance some time for discussion of the module and that students be given time to discuss among themselves before discussing their concerns with the module tutor. The module tutor would then make and keep some minutes on the results of these discussions.

5. Rolando Vasquez kindly agreed to help in the organisation of Social and Political Thought Seminars.

6. It was agreed that Robert Fine would talk with John Naylor about the library acquiring more recent books on social and political thought.

7. Concern was expressed about essay deadlines. In particular, it was argued that the first essay deadline should be for one essay only so that feedback could be given to the students before they write their second essay. It was requested that the staggering of essays be looked at by the department once again and that the question be reviewed of whether the final deadline for essays five and six could be pushed back any further.

8. There was considerable discussion about the organisation of seminars. Various points and suggestions were put forward: i. That the tutor give a 50 minute lecture some time before the two-hour seminar; ii. that seminar tutors give a lead to ensure that discussion in the seminar does not stray too far from the central questions; iii. that students are given time to read particular authors in depth rather than rush too fast from one to the other week by week; and iv. that the rationale for seminar-based methods of teaching be spelt out and explained. This was done brilliantly by Kakia Goudeli.

9. It was felt that the social events we have organised went well and that there should be more.

10. It was agreed that holding the SSLC meeting in ‘Admin week’ was not a good idea as many students were away. It was agreed to hold another SSLC in 8th week (Wednesday 1 March 2000 at 1 p.m. in the Gillian Rose Seminar Room) to include those who were missing.

Minutes compiled by Robert Fine