ASTK15630U Seminar: Ideology and Political Discourse

Volume 2015/2016

Elective in the specialisation "Political Theory"

Bachelor level 10 ECTS

Master level 7.5 ECTS


The central puzzle that begins this course is: How is it possible to accept the truth of what we and others believe if we know that beliefs are socially conditioned?  Another way to say that is: How can we at one and the same time judge peoples’ beliefs (including our own) in terms of objective truthand analyze persons and groups’ political interests?


This problematique has been with us since the advent of the possibility of mass politics, around the time of the French Revolution, when much thinking was devoted to the mathematics of voting (e.g. Condorcet) and the development of a ‘People’ that could speak with one ‘democratic’ voice.  This problematique still applies today in a post-Cold War age of globalization and politics through social media.  


The course adopts three approaches to the problematique: 1) Classics theorists of ideology to whom we owe our modern concepts: i.e. Marx, Mannheim and Gramsci; 2) Contemporary accounts of the relationships between ideology, discourse and politics: i.e. Michael Freeden, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe; 3) Contemporary political issues which evoke the initial puzzle and which students will be expected to discuss.  I myself propose two (the War on Terror, and debates about migration); but students will be encouraged to find others, either for discussion in class and/or their final written assignments. 


Provisional Programme


1.    The topic of ideology and discourse today


Part I: Classics on Ideology

2.    Marx and Engels’ adoption and deepening of the concept of ideology

3.    The Marxist concept of ideology and other accounts of political thinking

4.    Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia

5.    Karl Mannheim’s ‘Sociology of Knowledge’ and alternative ways of interpreting socially conditioned beliefs

6.    Gramsci’s concepts of ideology & hegemony and their later influence


7.    How are accounts of ideology relevant for political understanding today?


Part II: Ideology, Discourse and contemporary Political Theory

8.    Michael Freeden and contemporary concepts of Ideology

9.    Ernest Laclau and hegemonic, ‘universalist’ thinking

10. Chantal Mouffe’s account of a contemporary politics of social movements


11. Summing-up theories of ideology and their contemporary relevance


Part III: Contemporary Cases

12. Case Study 1: The War on Terror

13. Case Study 2: The Immigration Debate


14. Looking back/preparation for the exam

Learning Outcome

By the completion of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Present a selection of classic and recent accounts of the theory around ideology and discourse.
  2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of concepts of ideology and the difficulties that the concept gives rise to.
  3. Apply some of those theoretical insights to specific instances of political debate.


Grades will awarded for: presentations in class and/or short preliminary drafts of proposed end-of-semester assignments (20%), and for the end-of-semester assignment (80%)


The grading for assessments will award:

  • Grade 12 for an excellent performance displaying a high level of command of with no or only a few minor weaknesses.
  • Grade 7 for a performance displaying good command of many aspects of the material and objectives above, but also some weaknesses.
  • Grade 02 for a performance meeting only the minimum requirements for acceptance.

Theory texts

  1. Freeden, Michael (2003) Ideology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Freeden, Michael. 1996. Ideologies and Political Theory. Oxford: Clarendon.
  3. Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Prison Notebooks, ed. Q. Hoare & P. Nowell-Smith, London: Lawrence & Wishart
  4. Laclau, Ernesto (1996). Emancipation(s). London: Verso.
  5. Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.
  6. Mannheim, Karl (1960) Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, first published 1936
  7. Marx, Karl & Friedrich Engels (1968) The German Ideology. Many editions
  8. Mouffe, Chantal. (2000) The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso.


Explanatory texts

  1. Eagleton, Terry (2007). Ideology. London: Verso.
  2. Norval, A. J. (2000). "Review Article: The Things we do with Words - Contemporary Approaches to the Analysis of Ideology." British Journal of Political Science30: 313-346.
  3. Ricoeur, Paul. (1986) Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, New York: Columbia University Press
  4. Seliger, M. (1976) Ideology and Politics, New York: The Free Press
  5. Zizek, S., ed. (1995). Mapping Ideology. London: Verso (Including articles by Althusser, Bourdieu & Zizek)


Studies of cases

  1. De Genova, Nicholas, and Nathalie Mae Peutz (2010) The Deportation Regime, Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press.
  2. Seidler, Victor Jeleniewski (2013) Remembering 9/11: Terror, Trauma and Social Theory. New York: Palgrave.
There are no substantive prerequisites. However, students are expected to be interested in and to have an awareness of international politics, and basic world geography and history (i.e. a rough awareness of where countries are approximately situated on the map and of major historical events from World War I to the present).

Prior knowledge on international courts, including those in the EU (i.e. the Court of Justice of the EU -CJEU and European Court of Human Rights - ECtHR) might be an advantage, but is not necessary.
This seminar will involve a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions revolving around the mandatory readings and relevant case studies. Guest lecturers - who are experts on the judicial institutions that are being studied - will be invited. A documentary screening on prosecution at the ICC will be arranged during one of the sessions if students are interested, and if time permits.

Towards the end of the seminar, students will be required to submit an individual response paper that discusses one of several questions that will be uploaded to Absalon early in the semester. Some additional research will be required, beyond what will be covered in class. Two ‘sample’ questions are included below:

a) In what circumstances have international courts (ICs) been either supported or rejected by the states that are under their jurisdiction? How do ICs respond to instances of the latter? Discuss this with reference to at least two international courts that were discussed in the seminar, using the key concepts that were introduced in class.

b) To what extent have the two European courts (CJEU, ECtHR) served as viable models for courts in other regions and contexts? Do certain contexts or institutional designs favour the establishment and acceptance of a supranational court?
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Course Preparation
  • 123
  • Exercises
  • 40
  • Preparation
  • 15
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assesment