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Contemporary Political Theory MSc

UCAS code
Year of entry 2017
Course Length
1 year full time
2 years part time
Department Politics and International Relations »


As political and humanitarian challenges continue to challenge our society, the need for creative thinking about how to tackle them grows ever stronger.  Political theory deals with arguments about the way in which society and government should be structured, the rights and obligations we have to one another and the freedoms we enjoy.

In studying the MSc in Contemporary Political Theory you will be challenged to understand, to think critically about and address global problems.  The MSc offers advanced training in key issues and thinkers in contemporary political theory, from both the Anglo-American and Continental perspectives.

You will study a mixture of core and elective units, including a generous choice of free options, and write a supervised dissertation over the summer. Teaching is conducted primarily in small group seminars that meet weekly for two hours, supplemented by individual tuition for the dissertation. You will be taught by world-class scholars and informed by cutting-edge research, including applied analytical political theory (with issues including immigration, citizenship and the politics of recognition), post-Nietzschean theories of identity and post-identity politics, democratic theory and pragmatist philosophy.

The Department of Politics and International Relations has a strong commitment to high quality, cutting-edge research which informs our teaching. We are a research community that draws on various methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of domestic, transnational, regional and global politics.  This includes research into areas such as security, international diplomacy, international law, the use of military force, the European Union, voting behaviour, political participation and the impact of new communication technology on politics, nationalism and migration.

This course is also offered at Postgraduate Diploma level for those who do not have the academic background necessary to begin an advanced Masters degree. The structure of the Diploma is identical except that you will not write a dissertation. If you are successful on the Diploma you may transfer to the MSc, subject to academic approval.

Core modules

Contemporary Anglo-American Political Theory
Human Rights - From Theory to Practice

This module explores some of the key issues which arise in the moral evaluation of human rights, both in general and with respect to particular rights. You will consider the role of rights in political and moral discourse and develop an understanding of some of the key criticisms to which they’ve been subject. You will also look at the three major categories of rights which have attracted much debate: economic rights, minority rights, and group rights. Finally, you will gain an oversight of the three central rights in liberal societies, examining the ways in which they have been interpreted and defended in light of recent political debates.

Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in Politics and International Relations

This module provides an introduction to a range of quantitative methods commonly used in the study of Politics and International Relations, equipping you with the skills to successfully study and analyse a wide range of political phenomena. You will examine ways in which theoretical propositions can be tested with empirical data, and a substantial part of the module will be based in labs where you will learn how to carry out quantitative analysis on existing data sets on elections, democracy and war. The aim is to empower you so that you are confident in interpreting and handling statistical data. No prior knowledge or experience of statistics is needed, and you will develop both a conceptual understanding of the statistical techniques and practical experience in conducting statistical analysis.

Theories and Qualitative Approaches in Politics and International Relations

This module will provide you with an introduction to the core theories and qualitative approaches in politics and international relations. You will examine a number of explanatory and theoretical frameworks, their basic assumptions, strengths and weaknesses, and concrete research applications. You will consider the various qualitative techniques available for conducting search research, the range of decisions qualitative researchers face, and the trade-offs researchers must consider when designing qualitative research. You will examine qualitative methodology in political analysis, including interviews, focus groups and ethnography; analysing textual data; comparative qualitative methods; and comparative qualitative analysis of history and political change.

Dissertation

The dissertation is the culmination of independent supervised research, and will be around 10,000 words in length. Your choice of dissertation topic will be made at the end of the spring term, and you will be allocated a supervisor with expertise in your chosen field. You will submit an outline of the project, with an indicative bibliography, to the Programme Director at the beginning of the third term, and your supervisor will arrange a series of progress meetings over the summer period. Your dissertation may be either a critical analysis of a theoretical problem or the result of an empirical project.

Optional modules

In addition to these mandatory course units there are a number of optional course units available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course units that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new units may be offered or existing units may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.

Neo-Platonism

This module will develop your understanding of ancient philosophical arguments, evaluating them both in isolation and in comparison with rival positions, considering the importance of cultural backgrounds in positions that have been adopted by particular thinkers. You will look at the philosophical ideas of Plotinus and his successors, both in their historical context and in relation to the previous philosophical tradition. You will be introduced to the Greek pagan tradition, particularly Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus, as well as the Neoplatonic commentaries on Plato and Aristotle written in late antique Athens and Alexandria, alongside some Christian Platonist texts.

Continental Aesthetics

In this module you will develop an understanding of the historical study of aesthetics and the philosophy of art in the European tradition. You will engage with a wide variety of philosophical texts, developing your ability to read, interpret, and evaluate philosophical approaches to aesthetics and art. You will look at Kant's third critique, followed by a survey of important works in continental aesthetics.

Twentieth Century French Thought

In this module you will develop an understanding of the key developments of the Twentieth Century French philosophical tradition. You will look at how the French tradition developed as an alternative approach to philosophical problems on the basis of the perceived failure of classical analytical approaches. You will engage with a number of theorists, studying key texts in depth, further developing your ability to express, question, and justify theories, both dialogically, and in writing. You will assess arguments presented by Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Gilles Deleuze.

Social Media and Politics

This module addresses the ways in which social media are changing the relationships between politicians, citizens, and the media. You will develop an understanding of the broad arguments and debates surrounding the democratic implications of social media that are ongoing, not just in academic circles, but also in public commentary, political circles, and policy networks. Drawing on recent empirical research published in the most highly rated academic journals in the field, you will to be able to identify how social media are used by citizens, politicians, and media professionals to access, distribute, and co-produce contents that are relevant to politics and public affairs.

Elections and Voting Behaviour

In this module you will examine why people vote for different political parties, and how their behavior is shaped by the mobilization strategies of political parties and institutional arrangements. You will learn how social divisions are translated into political visions, and how the mechanisms of accountability and representation operate in different political and economic contexts. You will develop an understanding of how campaigns shape voting behavior and influence the criteria citizens use in deciding how to vote, see how these patterns have changed over time, and be able to identify the main factors that shape electoral behavior and election outcomes across western democracies.

Politics of Democracy
British Political Parties
Comparative Political Executives
Media, Power and Public Affairs

This module examines the relationship between media, power and public affairs in contemporary political life. You will look at a number of important themes, including theories of media effects, the construction of political news, election campaigning, government communications and spin, media regulation, the globalisation of media, agenda setting, and propaganda and the role of media in foreign policy and military intervention.

Internet and New Media Politics

This module will provide you with an introduction to contemporary debates about the role and influence of new technologies on the values, processes and outcomes of global governance institutions, public bureaucracies, representative institutions including political parties and legislatures, and pressure groups and social movements. You will examine persistent and controversial policy problems such as the digital divide, privacy and surveillance, intellectual property issues, and the power of the new media sector in domestic and global economies. You will primarily consider the politics of the United States and Britain, but will also look at examples from around the world, including developing nations.

Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including coursework and a dissertation.

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1) or equivalent.

Mature students with substantial work experience will also be considered.

English language requirements:

IELTS 6.5 overall with 7.0 in writing and a minimum of 5.5 in all other subscores. For equivalencies see here.

If you require Royal Holloway to sponsor your study in the UK, your IELTS must be a UK government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).


This course attracts those with backgrounds in political science and from allied disciplines, and both recent graduates and mature students with work experience.

International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below




Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

 Additional information:

 

Graduates of political degrees have much to offer potential employers having developed a range of transferable skills, both practical and theoretical, whilst studying with us. With up to 90% of our most recent graduates now working or in further study, according to the Complete University Guide 2015, it’s true to say our graduates are highly employable. 

The methodological nature of a politics degree provides graduates with valuable analytical and research skills in preparation for careers in government, political consultancy, NGOs and research organisations.

In recent years, departmental graduates have secured jobs in a wide range of professions, such as the law, the civil service, accountancy, management, journalism, broadcasting, teaching, international development and diplomacy. In fact, six-months after graduation, 90% of our most recent graduates are enhancing their skills with further study or forging careers in companies and institutions such as:

  • Bloomberg
  • The Church of England
  • Citigroup
  • The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  • The Conservative Party
  • Ernst & Young
  • The European Commission Global Capital
  • HM Treasury
  • The Henry Jackson Society
  • House of Commons
  • Ipsos MORI
  • The Labour Party
  • KAYAK
  • NATO Headquarters
  • Oxford Business Group
  • Proctor & Gamble
  • Quadrangle
  • Save the Children

Home and EU students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £7,000

Overseas students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £14,500

Other essential costs**: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course

Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

*The tuition fees given above apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis.  Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee and information is available from the Royal Holloway Student Fees Office on Student-Fees@rhul.ac.uk. All fees are likely to rise annually in line with inflation but no more than 5 per cent per year.

For further information, please see Royal Holloway’s Terms & Conditions.

** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.

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