Political Theory

The study of Political Theory is partly the study of what other people have thought about the nature of politics and the values it can and should realise, and partly an engagement on the part of the student in writing and making arguments about the central values and concerns of politics.

In the first case, students are encouraged to engage with classical texts in the canon of political theory, from the ancient world, through the early modern writings of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke and major nineteenth century thinkers such as Hegel, Marx and Weber, to works of contemporary political theorists. In the second case, students' engagement with such writings goes beyond working out what was being said, to develop the skills to critically reflect on and evaluate the ideas and principles found in these works, and to formulate their own arguments and ideas against the background of a range of modern debates on justice, liberty, equality, rights, toleration, multiculturalism and so on. Moreover, political theory covers both the more philosophical examination of concepts and values, and reflection on the conditions for the emergence and realisation of those values. As such it draws on a number of disciplines and skills, from philosophy and law, to history and sociology. But in each case, its central concern is with the construction of argument and the development of debate.

Oxford is a world centre for the study of political theory and its scholars have profoundly influenced the way in which political theory is practised across the world. It combines experts in analytical political thought (Butt, Caney, Miller, McDermott, Stemplowska, and White); historians of political thought and ideology (Leopold and Stears); and leading feminist and post-structuralist theorists (Frazer and McNay), although the work of many of these overlaps with other fields and approaches.

The Department has featured largely in recent debates on justice and equality (Butt, Elford, Miller, Stemplowska and White); political realism and political violence (Frazer and Stears); global justice, cosmopolitanism and nationalism (Butt, Caney, Miller, and Stemplowska); intergenerational and environmental justice (Caney); jurisprudence (McDermott); multiculturalism (McNay); and utopianism (Leopold). In spite of their differing approaches and research interests, the political theory group works closely together and has developed a range of collaborative projects both for teaching and research, and it seeks to involve its students in the full range of its activities.