SEMINAR: Contemporary Political Theory

Course content

What is a just society? Do contemporary political institutions discipline or emancipate citizens? Do contemporary society privilege some groups at the cost of others? What should a critical social theory focus on in today's world? Which principles or norms, if any, should we employ to evaluate our political institutions? Is democracy possible in the contemporary world?


These are some of the questions that are discussed in contemporary political theory. In this seminar, we will read and closely study some of the most important books published in political theory since the 1970s – books by John Rawls, Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, and feminists such as Iris Marion Young and Judith Butler. We focus on a few works in order to be able to go into depth with some very important, influential, and difficult theories. Everyone working in political theory must know the selected political theorists or philosophers, both because they are widely discussed and because they are great thinkers. By reading their works, the student will attain a solid understanding of some of the most important concepts and issues in contemporary political theory, as well as a deeper understanding of some of the great challenges we face in the contemporary world.


Contemporary Political Theory is a 15 ECTS seminar that meets for 4 hours each week during the semester. The seminar is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.


Competency description:

This seminar enhances the students’ ability to think critically and to combine complex theories across different traditions and styles of thinking. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, to discuss and evaluate competing claims, and to write in concise and clear manner. The seminar will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.


Core course in the speicalization "Political Theory"

Bachelor level 20 ECTS

Master level 15 ECTS

Learning outcome

The objective of the seminar is to enable the students to:

  • Describe the main approaches in contemporary political theory.
  • Present and analyze the arguments behind each of the approaches studied.
  • Apply the theories to discussions about our political world broadly understood.
  • Combine and synthesize the ways in which each approach envisions the nature of political theory.
  • Evaluate the validity of the various theorists’ arguments.

This seminar will consist of a combination of short lectures, student presentations and discussions. The course will be co-taught by Christian Rostbøll and Lars Tønder.

The following is a preliminary reading list. Other materials will be added before the beginning of the semester.


Butler, Judith (2006) Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence.

Habermas, Jürgen (1998) Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy.

Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

Rawls, John (1971) A Theory of Justice.

Young, Iris Marion (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference.

The seminar presupposes a general interest in political theory broadly conceived. The seminar is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment


  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28