Political Theory

Faculty of Social Science

Political Theory

Political theory is the study of ideas as they relate to politics. Political theorists look at ideas in their origin and historical development and they inquire into questions pertaining to such matters as power, justice, nature, property and conflict.  Political theory provides an analytic foundation for all subfields of political science, equips students with the tools to critically assess political norms and values, and solicits students to imagine new possibilities for political institutions and ideas.

The origin of political theory in the Western tradition lies in ancient Greece.  Homer’s epic tales, the great tragedies and comedies of Athens, and the trial and death of Socrates set the context for the questions that preoccupy political theorists. Why are we concerned with justice, and is justice ‘natural’ to us, or is it something that we create?  Can justice triumph over power? In what ways can reason aid us, or deter us, from achieving justice? Are we capable of self-improvement? Is there progress in history?  What is the significance of the term ‘human’ and how has it been shaped by its relations to the divine and the animal? Considering these questions through the tradition of political thought can aid us in the contemporary world sort out important matters that confront us now. especially as we consider the West’s encounters with other political traditions (Aboriginal, Eastern, African, Middle Eastern, South Asian) in the postcolonial context.  Are there limits to what human beings ought to do with biotechnology?  Should workers have the right to democratic control in the workplace? Do we owe respect to the ‘natural’ world, including animals and the habitat?  Do we have obligations to our fellow citizens that conflict with our obligations to humanity as a whole? Is equality between the sexes a universal good for all cultures?  Are there conflicting entitlements to property? Is national sovereignty under scrutiny in a globalized world? These are just some of the pressing questions that require the kind of reflection that political theory can provide.

Political theory is primarily concerned with cultivating students’ capacities for reflection and agency, especially those needed to negotiate the novel demands of 21st century global citizenship.  Students of political theory develop their abilities to reason critically and write coherently, and they find that these skills help them in any career that they pursue.  Former graduates with specialization in political theory at Brock are university professors, senior policy advisors at both federal and provincial levels of government, foreign service officers and executives in financial institutions.

All political science undergraduate students are required to take at least six credits in political theory, three of which must be at the second year level.  Second year courses are offered in ancient political theory, modern political theory and liberal democratic theory.  Third year courses are offered on themes such as citizenship, law and politics, and gender and politics. Fourth year seminars are typically capped at under twenty students and offer students the opportunity to investigate a particular theme, or thinker, in depth.

There are three faculty members with a primary research interest in political theory. Leah Bradshaw began her career with a focus on the work of Hannah Arendt, and more recently has developed comparative accounts of tyranny, empire, oligarchy and citizenship in the Western tradition.  Stefan Dolgert has a specialization in ancient political thought, with specific attention to issues of sacrifice and justice. He has interests in environmental and animal justice. Ingrid Makus has worked on the treatment of women and children by modern Western political thinkers, and recently has focused on the political significance of Simone de Beauvoir.