Core Subject: 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 course, 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 Iris Young. For the most part, 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 course is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory.


Core subject in the core-subject track in Political Theory. Only accessible to students who are admitted to Political Theory.


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.

Learning outcome


  • Describe the main approaches in contemporary political theory.
  • Understand and explain main divisions and developments in contemporary political theory.
  • Evaluate the validity of the various theorists’ arguments.



  • Present and analyze the arguments behind each of the approaches studied.
  • Combine and synthesize the ways in which the approaches studied envision the nature of political theory.
  • Apply the theories to discussions about our political world broadly understood.



  • Critical thinking across different traditions and styles of argumentation.
  • Writing and presentation in a concise and clear manner.
  • Ability to develop a coherent argument.

This course will consist of a combination of short lectures, student presentations and discussions.

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

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 (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference.


Core subject in the core-subject track in Political Theory. Only accessible to Master students who are admitted to Political Theory.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Written 3-day take-home exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Three-day compulsory written take-home assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • English
  • 56


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Christian F. Rostbøll   (2-71804e7774813c79833c7279)

Christian F. Rostbøll
Alice el-Wakil

Saved on the 30-05-2023

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