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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2022/2023

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Not available in 2021/22


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The aim of this module is to provide a comprehensive introduction to the formative texts in the history of conceptualizing the relationship between capitalism, the state and social order.
  • The purpose of this module is to analyse some of the most insightful and influential conceptualizations of capitalism and its relationship to a number of issues and problems of modernity: the formal and institutional relationship between the political and economic spheres of social life; the organization and reproduction of classes in society, the status of the juridically free individual in relationship to the larger community; the prospects for democracy; the processes of valuation; and the legitimacy of cultural, moral and political authority.
  • The module seeks to foster an interdisciplinary understanding of capitalism and the state by bringing together works of political philosophy, political economy and historical sociology.


  • Introduction
  • Adam Smith: Commercial Society and the Invisible Hand of the Market
  • Karl Marx: Historical Materialism and the Critique of Political Economy
  • Max Weber: Rationalization and Bureaucracy
  • Joseph Schumpeter: Creative Destruction and Competitive Elitism
  • Friedrich von Hayek: Spontaneous Order and the Constitutional State
  • Karl Polanyi: The Dis-embedded Market and the Regulatory State
  • Herbert Marcuse: Instrumental Reason and Surplus Repression
  • Daniel Bell and Jurgen Habermas: Capitalism, Legitimation and the Crisis of Authority
  • Revision

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of various formulations of crisis in its economic, social and political dimensions
  • A sophisticated understanding of competing conceptions of labour, value and value creation
  • A critical understanding of different conceptions of social relations in capitalist society
  • A comprehensive understanding of key debates regarding the normative aspects of capitalist development
  • A critical understanding of various conceptualizations of the relationship between capitalism and democracy
  • An advanced understanding of the ontological and epistemological aspects of various theoretical contributions to understanding capitalism and modernity
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critical engagement, assessment and evaluation of theoretical and conceptual material
  • An ability to establish and defend effectively an intellectual position within the context of theories of capitalism
  • An ability to write and speak critically about the contested politics of capitalism and modernity
Key Skills:
  • Ability to conduct independent research into a specified topic
  • Developing effective writing, oral communication and research skills
  • Taking responsibility for independent learning, including self-organization and time management

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will contain an introductory lecture and a concluding lecture. Beginning the week following the introductory lecture, students will be taught in weekly two hour seminars. The seminars allow the students to critically engage with the material through a discussion with their classmates and their lecturer, thereby developing skills of critical engagement and assessment as well as developing the ability to orally defend an intellectual position in the context of the relevant theories of capitalism. Seminars also allow students to receive lecturer feedback pertaining to their understanding of the key concepts and debates in the essential readings as well as guidance pertaining to further reading.
  • Students are required to submit a 1500 word formative essay halfway through the module. This allows them to receive timely feedback regarding their understanding of the key conceptual and thematic components of the module as well as to practice their reading and writing skills. Students are also required to do a seminar presentation on a theorist of their choice. The presentation is intended to develop their critical reading skills as well as their skills of oral communication and also allows for the reception of feedback regarding their understanding of the material.
  • Summative assessment will take the form of a 4000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the module. The essay will demonstrate the ability to organise the relevant material and to write coherently about that material. In terms of subject specific skills, the essay tests the ability of students to critically engage with the theoretical and conceptual material in order to effectively defend an intellectual position in regards to a particular thematic question relating to the contested politics of capitalism and modernity conveyed in the literature. In terms of key skills, it requires students to engage in independent research, to organize their material and write effectively within a set deadline and word limit.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 2 Weekly 1 hour 2
Seminars 8 Weekly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 4,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Essay 1,500 words

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University