Political Studies

Develop your knowledge of political theory and enhance your understanding of the political landscape.


There are four taught modular units, at least three of which must be completed within the Department.  

Ordinarily students will be expected to complete at least two essays of between 10 and 20 pages per unit.  Classes may alternate between lecture and seminar formats. Progress will depend largely on the student’s own reading and willingness to participate in class discussion.  All courses involve the use of web-based learning. 

In the first semester, Honours students will also be expected to complete a research-based independently conceived research essay on an approved topic. 

The student will work on his/her research project with the support of an individually assigned supervisor. A compulsory Research Methods component will form part of this module. 



POLS4012 – Development Theory  

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the major social, economic, and political, assumptions underpinning ‘development studies’, and, most importantly, to the strategies that might best be adopted to ‘promote’ or ‘manage’ development. In this way, the ‘problem of development’ in three loosely defined and inter-connected areas of social life—the market, the state, and the community—is placed into sharper relief.  

POLS4036 - Democratic Theory

This course examines key issues in democratic theory. Democratic theory is concerned with understanding democracy as a concept and ideal. It poses questions such as: what is democracy? What forms does it take? Is it desirable? What are its limitations? How can it be improved? 

The course examines both the theory and practice of democracy and proposals for extending and deepening democracy. 

The first block looks at basic questions about democracy: its definition, rival traditions and approaches, justification and key problems. This is the more theoretical block. Topics covered here include liberal versus radical and African democracy, deliberative democracy, theories of representation and the relationship between democracy and rights. 

The second block focuses on institutional details and examples. It examines democratic models and techniques, especially those that are said to constitute new or more advanced forms of democracy compared to standard representative democracy. Some newer and/or ostensibly more advanced forms include direct democracy (referendum, popular initiative), participatory democracy (assembly democracy), functional and proletarian democracy (soviets, workers’ councils, guild socialism, syndicalism), eco-anarchist communes, sortition and citizen juries. 

POLS4045 - African Politics: African Political Theory 

The course, African Political Theory, takes as its foundation the analytical study of ideas and doctrines that have been central to African political thought in the late 19th century to the present. Similar to other political theory courses, this analytical study will take the form of a history of political thought, including a focus on a list of “major thinkers” and a “canon of classic texts.” Primarily, the course is interested in examining what major thinkers said, how they developed or justified their views, and the intellectual context within which they developed their ideas, including how such ideas continue to have relevance today. The list of thinkers includes, but is not limited to: Chinua Achebe, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cheikh Anta Diop, Nawal El Saadawi, Archie Mafeje, Chabani Manganyi, Achille Mbembe, John Mbiti, V. Y. Mudimbe, Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Nolutshungu, Julius Nyerere, Wole Soyinka, Awa Thiam, Rick Turner, and Kwasi Wiredu to name a few.  As a normative course, African Political Theory concerns itself with African political thinkers and their approaches to questions of freedom, justice, liberty, and the state – all of which are key concepts in Political Theory. 

POLS4044 - Justice and Democracy: Freedom in South Africa

The course analyses the origins of the notions of justice, democracy and freedom. 

The first half of the course examines the history of justice, democracy and freedom. The second half of the course analyses the manner in which these ideas relate to the reality of the acquisition of freedom in Africa and South Africa. The course includes analysis of the ideas (and intellectual and historical contexts) of the following core thinkers, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Fanon, Biko, Mandela, Sen and Geuss, amongst others. 

POLS4046 - The Politics of Slavery and Human Trafficking 

Slavery and enslavement have been recurring themes throughout human history, having been practiced by most peoples at most times over the course of thousands of years. This historical pedigree raises many challenging questions. If slavery represents a straightforward crime against humanity, as current legal and moral opinion maintains, why was it sanctioned by all major civilizations and religions for such an extended period? On what grounds can we connect modern individuals and organizations to the history and legacies of various past injustices? Similar challenges also extend to anti-slavery activism, which has beenwidely celebrated as a major watershed in the history of human rights. In this context, organised anti-slavery has been approached as both a strategic template (which offers a tactical model for more recent campaigns), and as an historical inspiration (which effectively demonstrates the potential of modern human rights activism). It is also clear, however, that many aspects of the history of slavery offer little or no cause for celebration. 
Over the life of the course, students should be able to 

  • Critically assess a variety of approaches to the study of slavery and abolition, both past and present.
  • Critically assess patterns of political activism that have been associated with efforts to combat various examples of slavery and human bondage.
  • Critically assess the relationship between historical slave systems and contemporary forms of slavery.
  • Gain an appreciation of the key issues and events that have defined transatlantic slavery, other forms of legal slavery, the history and legacies of the legal abolition of slavery in Africa and the Americas, the contemporary problems of ‘classical slavery’, bonded labour, wartime enslavement, and recent debates over reparations and public commemoration of slavery.
  • Understand and evaluate the various methods used to research various forms of slavery and human bondage.
  • Evaluate competing representations of slavery and abolition, and assess the ramifications of these competing representations for how slavery has been conceptualised and discussed.
  • Explore linkages between slavery and other human rights abuses, legal regimes, and structural issues of poverty, migration, inequality, racism and discrimination.
  • Evaluate competing ethical, legal and political positions regarding the causes and consequences of slavery, and related strategies for eradication and prevention. 
POLS4047 - Politics and Utopia

This course will provide graduate students with an introduction to key ideas and theories in the development of political thought. Utopian visions, and their impact on political thought and practice are studied. The course explores the relationship between political theory and practice. 

POLS4052 - Research Methods and Research Ethics in Political Studies

This course introduces a range of debates and approaches regarding the how’s and why’s of research methods.

The specific focus of the course is political studies, but the social sciences more generally also provides a larger backdrop to a number of topics and debates. In addition to providing an introduction to research methods and research ethics, this course will provide targeted instruction on how to develop a research proposal to guide the completion of your honours/MA dissertation. We begin the course with a consideration of the role of empirical research in political studies, and then critically engage with notions of method and science when planning research projects. This in turn helps to introduce a series of discussions around the use of common research methods, including case studies, discourse analysis, law and its applications, comparative analysis, ethnography, archival sources and research ethics. In each session we will examine prominent examples of methods, and consider their strengths and weaknesses. Towards the end of the course students will present their plans to their peers and other members of the department, building upon ideas put together in a research proposal.  

POLS4027 - Selected Topics in Political Studies: Afro-politics and Religion

The course examines religion's role in shaping African society. Part of the aim of the course is to critique contemporary conflict theories and narratives of nation-states in their failure to account for religion's influence on the development of the African state and society. The interaction between the various religious outlooks and the constant invention of new belief systems is explored. 

POLS4033 -The State in Africa: Democratisation and Crisis

This unit draws upon debates about the birth and development of the African state. Furthermore, It explores the various views of the African state. 

POLS4038 - Violence, Identity and Transformation

This is an interactive research seminar. It is intended to be a laboratory for mutual learning and collective transdisciplinary research. By accessing archives of the global South And North key questions regarding the politics of violence will be explored. One such question is, 'in which ways have progressive, inclusive and diverse new social orders been imagined and how could we or should we (not?) imagine them today? 

POLS4054 - An Introduction to Biopower

In 1975 Michel Foucault published Discipline and Punish, a book that quickly established itself as a modern classic and which focused his research on what he later described as biopower. Over the next decade, this line of research gave rise to an influential set of critical practices that establish new strategies for thinking about power, the state, and what it means to act politically. This course explores Foucault’s concept of biopower through a close reading of his canonical statements on the subject, starting with selections from Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, and then moving to his courses Society Must be DefendedSecurity Territory Population, and The Birth of Biopolitics 

In extending our understanding of this concept beyond Foucault, and in relation to the ways it has entered contemporary debates, we will also be discussing other writers who take up these themes. Alongside Foucault we will therefore discuss the writing of Gorgio Agamben, Achille Mbembe, Patha Chatterjee and Frank Wilderson.  During the latter part of the course, we turn from these theoretical perspectives on biopower to collectively review a set of case studies that show how biopolitical strategies come to be reflected in contemporary political practices. In shifting from the abstract to the concrete we will also be asking questions about the relevance and limits of the theoretical perspectives studied in the first section of the course.  

POLS4055 – Afro-politics and Religion 

Various strands of Christianity are identified and studied in the context of the broad African socio-political context.  The course aims to engage students in examining religion's role in shaping African society through its complex political relationship with colonialism, anti-colonial movements, post-colonial rule (especially the wave of democratization), and globalization. Part of the main aim of the course is to critique contemporary theories and narratives of nation-states in their failure to account for religion's influence on the development of the African state and society.  The course examines broad questions such as:  How do religions affect the political orientation of African societies?  How are religious differences and conflicts confronted and resolved in the context of post-colonial African states?  What roles do religions play in the organisation of social, political and economic life in Sub-Saharan Africa?  The course also focuses on the interaction between the various religious outlooks available in the continent and the constant invention of what might be described as new belief systems. 

POLS4050 - Institutions, Governance and Violence in Africa

The course explores the way in which institutions shape the development of financial, social, political, and legal structures. Particular attention is paid to the impact of pre- and post-colonial institutions in Africa. 

POLS4037- Debates in Feminism, Politics and Society

The ideas explored in this course introduce the challenges to political studies posed by feminist theory. The goal is to understand the role gender perspectives play in the analysis of the political world.

POLS4053 - Political Judgement: Judging Politics and Economics from the Democratic Global South 

What is good political and economic judgement? What enables good political judgement amongst citizens and their representatives? How do we best judge democracies? How do citizens most effectively judge and hold to account their rulers and their decisions? How could citizens be better involved in the economic and political judgement of their representatives? Using global political history, political theory and intellectual history, with particular reference to Africa, this course will provide students with the historical and theoretical tools to understand, interrogate and answer these questions. 

POLS4049 - Political Thought: Freedom in the Decolonizing Republic 

Freedom is one of the most central and contested concepts in politics. This course provides the historical and conceptual tools for understanding its various forms in ancient and modern perspective, in the global South and North, and particularly in the context of South Africa. It has two parts. The first focuses on the history, contexts and theory of four main competing conceptions of freedom. The second provides the basis for critical engagement with these views on freedom via the histories of republicanism, democracy, resistance and decolonization in two contexts – India and South Africa – with particular focus on the ideas and actions of liberationist thinkers such as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko. Comparison of these decolonizing democratic republics and some of the ideas that have animated them provides intellectual and institutional insights into a possible emancipatory politics where representation and resistance can together enable real democratic freedom. 


Entry Requirements


Applicants to Honours will normally have a BA major in Political Studies and have achieved at least 65% in this major. 

Closing Dates 

[standardised but date needs to checked] 

University Application Process 

  • Applications are handled centrally by the Student Enrolment Centre (SEnC). Once your application is complete in terms of requested documentation, your application will be referred to the relevant School for assessment. Click hereto see an overview of the Wits applications process. 
  • Please apply onlineUpload your supporting documents at the time of application, or via theSelf Service Portal. 
  • Applicants can monitor the progress of their applications via the Self Service Portal.
  • Selections for programmes that have a limited intake but attract a large number of applications may only finalise the application at the end of the application cycle.

Please note that the Entry Requirements are a guide. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee a place. Final selection is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable. 

International students, please check this section. 

For more information, contact the Student Call Centre +27 (0)11 717 1888, or log a query at www.wits.ac.za/askwits. 

University Application Process

  • Applications are handled centrally by the Student Enrolment Centre (SEnC). Once your application is complete in terms of requested documentation, your application will be referred to the relevant School for assessment. Click here to see an overview of the Wits applications process.
  • Please apply online. Upload your supporting documents at the time of application, or via the Self Service Portal.
  • Applicants can monitor the progress of their applications via the Self Service Portal.
  • Selections for programmes that have a limited intake but attract a large number of applications may only finalise the application at the end of the application cycle.

Please note that the Entry Requirements are a guide. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee a place. Final selection is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable.

International students, please check this section.

For more information, contact the Student Call Centre +27 (0)11 717 1888, or log a query at www.wits.ac.za/askwits.

University Fees and Funding

Click here to see the current average tuition fees. The Fees site also provides information about the payment of fees and closing dates for fees payments. Once you have applied you will be able to access the fees estimator on the student self-service portal.

For information about postgraduate funding opportunities, including the postgraduate merit award, click here. Please also check your School website for bursary opportunities. NRF bursaries: The National Research Foundation (NRF) offers a wide range of opportunities in terms of bursaries and fellowships to students pursuing postgraduate studies. External bursaries portal: The Bursaries South Africa website provides a comprehensive list of bursaries in South Africa.