Course syllabus

Course Description

Political opinions are many. Viable political theories appear fewer. This course explores contemporary understandings of political theory. Students will learn about the history and theoretical structure of political opinion and debate in the 21st century. Students are encouraged to use this knowledge to discuss and analyse contemporary ethical and political questions.

The main focus of the course is late 20th century/early 21st century liberalism. Along the way, students explore certain challenges which liberalism faced/faces and how liberal thinkers have responded. Specific topics include Marxian thought, indigenous rights, the ethics of war, global justice, and feminism.

Combining the material essential for basic understanding with sophisticated theory, this course should be of interest to any student curious about exploring his or her ethical and political commitments. In particular, it should appeal (in no particular order) to students of political or social thought, indigenous studies, international relations theory, philosophy and law.

Course Outline

This course is designed to help students:

  1. Gain knowledge of primary currents in contemporary political theory
  2. Develop critical perspectives on that work
  3. Develop skills in constructing arguments & analytical thinking and writing
  4. Learn how to apply these to contemporary politics

Teaching Staff

Lecturer: Steve Winter <>

Tutor: Jordan Hanford <>

Class representatives:

Minh Nguyen <>

Corallee Collins-Annan <>

The class representatives have created a FaceBook page.

Course Structure

This course comprises a series of twenty-four lectures accompanied by weekly tutorials.

There will be a final exam.

The Course is subdivided into 8 'modules', each comprised of 1 or more lectures with accompanying readings. Click on the link below to access these.

Module 1

Module 2

Module 3

Module 4

Module 5

Module 6

Module 7

Module 8

How to Locate Readings:

All readings are available through the university’s library system.

The staff at the library will be happy to assist you.

With respect to research outside the suggested readings, Simona Traser, the subject librarian, is available to provide expert assistance.

Course Textbook

McKinnon, Catriona. Issues in Political Theory. 3rd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

The textbook is accompanied by some useful online material:

You should look in particular at the suggested supplementary readings. These should help you write essays.

Background Reading
As general background sources, students may like to consult:

  • Swift, Adam. Political Philosophy: A Beginners' Guide for Students and Politicians Third Edition Oxford: Blackwell's Publishers, 2016.
  • Wolff, Jonathan. An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Third Edition Oxford: Oxford University Press 2016.
  • Bird, Colin. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Cambridge University Press 2006.
  • Other background reading may be appropriate. The library has a wide range of introductory titles, some of which may be more convenient.

Online Sources

Assigned articles, both recommended and required, are available online using the university’s subscriptions to databases such as Jstor and journal e-publications.

Online copies are often much easier to access than hard-bound copies and save trees.

The course textbook contains a number of references to online material of benefit to students.

The lecture program  periodically indicates relevant podcasts available from 'Philosophy Bites' and other sources.These are free and available either through ITunes (or at Students are encouraged to listen to non-specified broadcasts, as many of these contain interesting and relevant information.

Supplemental E-Resources

 The following are some additional websites with information on topics we discuss:

  • The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy contains a significant amount of information helpful to introductory-level scholarship in theory.
  • The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy contains a significant amount of information helpful to more advanced scholarship in theory. This source is a great 'point of entry' when researching essays


The Tuākana Arts programme is part of the University’s commitment to equitable outcomes for our Maori and Pacific students. In addition to the support available to all students, Tuākana provides guidance as you navigate the cultural and academic life of the University. If you have any concerns during the course, please get in touch with our Stage II and III Tuakana mentor:

Clark Tipene


Drop-in hours: Monday 12pm-1pm and Wednesday 1-2pm in HSB 502


Assessment Type                       Due Date            Value as % of total assessment                       

SUMMARIES   (9x 70 Words)    Weekly                     Value: 10%

ESSAY 1          (1000 Words)     20 Apr                       Value: 20%

ESSAY 2          (1500 Words)     18 May                     Value: 30%

EXAMINATION                           TBA                          Value: 40%



Plussage DOES NOT apply in this course.

Coursework should conform to the latest version of the Department’s Coursework Guide.

As per the coursework guide, essays are to be submitted both in hard copy and through Canvas.

Students are advised to consult the following people (in this order) at the earliest possible opportunity if, for any reason, they experience problems in completing an assessment:

      • The Lecturer.
      • The Undergraduate Advisor.

See the file entitled Writing Tips for help in writing essays

Late Coursework:

The standard tariff of penalities is as follows:

Essays submitted up to two days late will lose 5 marks

Essays submitted three to five days late will lose 10 marks

Essays submitted six to ten days late will lose 25 marks

Essays submitted more than ten days past the due submission date will not be accepted and the student will be given a 0% mark for the essay.

Students are strongly encouraged to see their tutor/lecturer in advance of the due date to discuss what options are available to complete the coursework despite prospective lateness.

For more information, see the Coursework Guide

Return of Coursework

We will return marked essays as quickly as possible. These will be returned in the lecture or in the discussion hour. Material that remains uncollected at the end of term will be destroyed.

Summaries will not be returned. As these are past/fail assessments, they will not have normally have pedagogic comments. However, in some cases, teaching staff may draw the student's attention to particular issues.

Course summary:

Date Details