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Annual Course Review 1999-2000

MA Social and Political Thought


Convenor: Dr R Fine

Recognised by ESRC as 'S'. One ESRC quota award

Aims of the programme

The masters degree in Social and Political Thought provides a comprehensive coverage of classical and contemporary currents in social and political thought, drawing primarily on French, German and Anglo-American traditions of scholarship. The aim of the programme is to give students the opportunity not only to acquire knowledge in this area but also to struggle with difficult and demanding texts. The students are offered a syllabus which covers the most important debates in social theory, and within this framework they pursue their own intellectual interests free from the constraint of fixed expectations.

Learning Objectives:

The objectives of the programme are that students gain

· a solid grounding in classical and modern traditions of social and political thought;

· the ability to read and understand difficult and demanding texts;

· skills in conceptual analysis, critical theorising, reflective judgement and the synthesis of competing ideas;

· the ability to write authoritative, solidly grounded and innovative texts,

· the ability to present orally the results of scholarly work;

· research skills required for a dissertation; and

· specialist skills in understanding and developing interdisciplinary relations between sociological, economic, philosophical and political thought.

Teaching methods

All modules adopted a text and seminar-based approach to teaching, with students making presentations individually or collaboratively, and then engaging in intensive discussion with other students and staff. This openness can lead some students to request more formal modes of instruction, but overall the daring and exuberance of the best pieces of work and the freshness of the rest – as noted by successive external examiners – are evidence of the success of this strategy. This year four of the students went onto doctoral research, three of whom remained at this institution, and one is intending to register next year.

Teaching environment

The students on this course also had the opportunity to participate in the activities of the Social Theory Centre, including the Social and Political Seminar Series which is run by doctoral and MA students and gives the students the opportunity to hear, discuss with and meet many distinguished speakers. Some students have had their work published in papers in social theory which the Centre puts out in conjunction with Sussex. As a result students on the SPT MA are part of a lively intellectual culture alongside doctoral students. The annual Gillian Rose Prize is awarded for the best essay in social and political thought and this year went to a part-time student and will be published in papers in social theory.

Course development

Staffing changes in 1999 and changes in the overall organisation of masters programmes within the department led to some changes in the structure of the MA, but these have not affected its integrity and coherence. 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. The new programme reflected the different and evolving interests and styles of the teaching staff. The programme offers a wide variety of modules ranging from the classics of social and political thought, to the sociology of modernity, critical and deconstructive social theory, the sociology of the Holocaust, the idea of Europe and mass media and feminism.


The Social and Political Thought MA is proving to be an attractive course for British, European and non-European students. Applicants with good degrees in any Arts or Social Science subject are encouraged to apply. It is the largest of the Sociology MAs and the largest earner of OSIS money. In 1999-2000 it attracted 9 full time and 1 part time students. 6 students were UK; 2 were overseas, and 1 EU. They were of varying backgrounds and ages, but of high levels of intellectual ability. One further overseas student was allowed to continue from the previous year for reasons of ill health.

SPT 98-99

UK/EU OS Total


Applications 13 0 11 0 24

Offers 13 0 11 0 24

Intake 9 0 4 0 13

SPT 99-00

UK/EU OS Total


Applications 21 1 12 0 34

Offers 21 1 9 0 31

Intake 7 1 2 0 10

Outside students

Many modules on this programme attract many students from other MA degrees (especially Politics, Philosophy and Social Theory and Women and Gender Studies) as well as doctoral students. The modules on this course play a crucial role in the theoretical side of the Department’s doctoral programme.


9 MAs were awarded of which one was a distinction. The part time student went forward to his second year. The continuation student continued to suffer from ill health but completed two more of his essays. There was no student who failed or stopped short at a Diploma. The mark sheets of the students demonstrate the high results achieved.


3 MA’s awarded, 1 with distinction.


14 MA’s awarded.


9 MA awarded, 1 with distinction and 3 with distinctions in their dissertations

Student support and guidance

Student on the programme received individual guidance from the convenor of the programme, from their module tutors, and from their dissertation supervisor. Students for whom English was a second language and who had not reached the required level of proficiency, took a pre-sessional English language course. Students with personal problems had access to the pastoral facilities of the Senior Tutor’s office of the University and of the Students Union. The students were given good access to computer facilities and training programmes.

Student evaluation

The monitoring of modules and the programme was done through periodic meetings of staff teaching on the programme; and through student review and feedback sessions for this MA, and in the general graduate SSLC. The convenors of the various modules organise their own method of student feedback which take the form both of written and oral evaluations. In addition, there are informal meetings held between students and staff to discuss the programme as a whole and any problems that arise.

Teaching and research

Connections between the MA in Social and Political Thought and the Social Theory Centre are one way in which links between teaching and research are consolidated. In addition, all teaching staff regularly use their recent research in teaching and conversely convert current teaching materials into published work. For example, Dr Goudeli introduced classes on the relation between Kant and Schelling, the subject of her doctoral research son due to be published; Prof. Clarke drew upon his well established published research into Marx’s social theory as well as his research into Russian labour; Prof. Fuller drew on his recently published research into the sociology and philosophy of science; Dr Turner drew on his many published articles on modern political thinkers; Dr Fine drew on his work on the relation between Hegel, Marx and Arendt soon to be published.. Dr Turner and Dr Fine also drew on their work on social theory after the Holocaust, now published as an edited collection..

External Examiner’s Report

Prof. Miriam Glucksman (University of Essex)

The report referred both to the MA in Social and Political Thought and the MA in Comparative Labour Studies. The written report was supplemented by oral comments. Prof Glucksman praised the high standards of the teaching and the quality of ‘erudite, serious and scholarly work’ achieved by many of the students, particularly in their dissertations. She also commented a) that the marking on one module seemed to be harsher than in other modules and that the question of fair marking across modules needed to be addressed; b) that more documentation on syllabi, course requirements, and marking schemes would be useful; and c) that one student in Comparative Labour Studies produced work in two modules that were constrained within too narrow a paradigm and that this needs to be kept in mind when looking at the array of a student’s work

The structure of the new programme

Term One: All students were to 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 were to 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, Sociology of the Holocaust, Critical and Deconstructive Social Theory, or with permission one outside option.

Term three and Summer: all MA students were to complete their essays and write a dissertation under individual supervision.

For each module there is an assessed essay of 5000 words (+ or – 20%).

The dissertation is 10,000 words (+ or – 20%)


Students generally produce their best work, in many cases work of a publishable standard, in their dissertations. Examples from 1999-2000 of dissertation titles and marks include:

Daniela Vicherat Reflections on public space (75)

Sascha Grillo The concept of a happy society (67)

Rolando Vazquez The concept of the symbolic environment (70)

Gloesha Challice The sociology of money: Marx and Simmel (71)

Adam Douglas The great Leviathan – recovering Hobbes (70)

The teaching staff on this programme are:

Prof. Simon Clarke

Dr. Robert Fine

Prof. Steve Fuller

Dr. Kyriaki Goudeli

Dr Deborah Steinberg

Dr. Charles Turner


Future Plans

We wish to build on the successes of this MA to keep it running in the context of significant changes in ESRC funding arrangements, and to expand it if possible. To this end we have plans to foster both recruitment and the lively and participatory intellectual culture associated with the MA and the Social Theory Centre. First, we need to overhaul our mailing lists, our web site and our recruitment literature; second, we need to maintain and expand the activities associated with the Centre, including our regular Social and Political Thought visiting seminars, our annual social theory lecture, our social theory papers, and our conferences.

Robert Fine