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Political Studies

The Department of Political Studies at Wits is one of Africa’s leading academic departments in its field. 

The Department’s prizewinning teaching and research staff are closely engaged with the challenges of: 

  • A society in transition
  • The role of South Africa in Africa, the Global South, and the world

The Department offers undergraduate courses on various topics, including, African Politics; Black Consciousness; Law and Politics; Political Sociology; South African Politics; States, Power and Governance; Theories of Development; Theories of Freedom, Justice and Difference and; Theories of Modernity.

Dynamic interaction between postgraduate students and academic staff is part of the Department’s culture. You can find out more about our academic staff adn their research interests under the Staff Section.

The vibrancy of the department is also enhanced by international students drawn to the department from the rest of the African continent, Europe, and North America.

Undergraduates can register for majors in Political Studies and Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).

Our postgraduate programmes include Honours, Masters, and PhD degrees in Political Studies.

Political Studies Major

Curriculum

First Year

Students must take two first-year courses in Political Studies.

Second Year

Students choose one unit in Semester One and one unit in Semester Two. Permission to replace a POLS course with another second-year SOSS course towards the Politics major needs to be obtained from the Head of Department.

Third Year

Students choose two units in Semester One and two units in Semester Two from our range of available options. Permission to replace a POLS course with another third-year SOSS course towards the Politics major needs to be obtained from the Head of Department.

Major in African Studies in History and Politics (In Abeyance)

Curriculum

This major requires students to have two first-year credits (36 points) either in History or in Political Studies.

Second Year

Students must register for: HIST2003 - History of Sub-Saharan Africa and POLS2012 - South Africa: Politics and Governance.

Third Year

In the third year, the major in African Studies in History and Politics will require 72 points from: 

  • POLS3003 - Development Concepts and Experience
  • POLS3016 - The Politics and Ideologies of Redistribution
  • POLS3018 - Conflict, Stability and State Building in Africa
  • HIST3003 - History of the African City.

N.B. Students can substitute one of the above with a module (18 points) from the third year modules in International Relations, Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology or History.

Undergraduate Courses

POLITICAL STUDIES LEVEL 1000 MODULES

All Political Studies students do the same modules in the first year, that is POLS 1007 (Introduction to Political Studies) and POLS 1008 (States, Power and Governance)

POLS 1007: Introduction to Political Studies Semester 1

This course introduces students to foundational themes in political studies such as ideologies, concepts and approaches to politics. The course focuses on contemporary politics and issues that confront this generation in the twenty first century.

POLS 1008: States, Power and Governance Semester 2

This unit examines different ways of ruling in selected states. It deals with issues such as state power, who rules, how and through what institutions. The unit looks at different case studies in the 20th century.

POLITICAL STUDIES LEVEL 2000 MODULES

POLS 2021: Black Consciousness Thought and the Politics of Anti-Racism Semester 1

This course is an introduction to the definitions of basic terms and concepts central to Black Consciousness and teaches students how to apply these concepts in analysing the political valence of Black Consciousness in the broader politics of anti-racism, drawing both from primary and secondary sources as well as local and international experiences. Students will attain a more critically informed perspective on Black Consciousness and the politics surrounding anti-racism discourses locally and globally. Students will be expected to develop conversance with a variety of foundational texts/theories/thinkers on Black Consciousness; develop an understanding of and engagement with the central debates of Black Consciousness and; develop an understanding of Black Consciousness as a glocal socio-political movement for anti-oppression and a tool for empowerment and resistance.

POLS 2020: Law, State, and Society Semester 1

This course will interrogate the relationship between ‘law’ and ‘politics’ – both in terms of international and comparative theory, and in terms of contemporary South African practice. We will consider cross-cutting themes, including the roles played by ideas of gender, race, and property in the construction of legal and political orders. We will also analyse common claims to the neutrality of ‘the rule of law’ and the universality of ‘human rights’. The fourteen weeks of this course will introduce students to the theory and methods of studying law and politics; to debates over the origins of law and the origins of the state; to international and national debates over constitutionalism, colonialism, and human rights politics; and to the legal and political controversies that shape post-Apartheid South Africa.

POLS 2006: Social Theories of Modernity Semester 2

This course examines the political, social and economic dimensions of modernity and postmodernity. It begins with an introduction to the essential literature of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment and their effects on western culture. The course focuses on the principal political economic institutions of modernity. This includes tracing the history of the modern European state from the collapse of feudalism to the emergence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of liberal and democratic state-forms. Several theoretical perspectives on modern capitalism and its relationship to the structures of the modern state are introduced and the various forms the state has assumed during the twentieth century – in particular the “social democratic” and “neo liberal” forms are studied in relation to the mutations of contemporary capitalism. A variety of “totalitarian” responses to the challenges of modernity, including some forms of religious fundamentalism, are then considered before the course concludes with an examination of the concept of “postmodernity”.

POLS 2002: Feminist Theory and Politics Semester 2

This unit introduces students to issues in feminist theory and politics. It begins by exploring philosophical and theoretical debates in feminism. It then examines the rise of women’s movements. In this context, the unit considers issues of “difference” within the politics of the women’s movement and also analyses the debates within the development discourse.

POLITICAL STUDIES LEVEL 3000 MODULES

POLS 3024: Introduction to Comparative Politics Semester 1

This course is an introduction to the sub-discipline of political science known as ‘comparative politics’. Comparative politics is the study and practice of comparing different political units and systems, either in whole or in part. Comparative politics is used to address such puzzles as varying degrees of democracy, varying levels of political and social conflict, varying levels of wealth, and to inform debates about creating or designing new political orders. Comparative Politics differs from International Relations in that we focus on politics within, not between, states. The goal of this course is to acquaint you with the concepts, ideas, and analytical tools necessary to understand the structures and processes of the political systems of countries in a comparative perspective. It aims to understand how politics is shaped in the interaction between political institutions, processes and political actors. This course critically examines whether outcomes such as better representation, political stability and political legitimacy can be achieved through the selection of certain forms of political institutions by governments in developing countries. The course further examines political collective actions, particularly social revolutions, their causes and outcomes.

POLS 3028: Critical Perspectives on State, Bureaucracy and Public Administration Semester 1 

This course aims to introduce students to the meaning and purpose of public administration in South African democracy, by explaining the context in which it arose, how it is organised and why it is organised in that way, and interrogating some emergent tensions and discourses around it. The purpose of the course is to show that public administration is the hinge that keeps government operational and that a lot of debates in the public domain, in political studies and in government essentially speak to the ways in which administration is (dis-) organised. The intended outcome of the course is to lead students to question whether South Africa’s public administration is progressive and sustainable, through the use of concrete examples, historical and ideological underlying factors for analysis.

POLS 3017: Liberty, Justice and Politics of Difference Semester 2

POLS 3017 focuses on three powerful ideas central to both the world of political action and political thought: liberty (or freedom), justice (with particular reference to distributive justice and economic equality) and ‘difference’ (or cultural/group inequality/diversity).  

What does freedom mean? How valuable is it? Are the ideals of liberty and equality in conflict? How should goods be distributed? How equal can and should people be? Can egalitarian theories address ethnic, racial, gender and other group inequalities? Can theories of individual freedom accommodate group rights? Can theories of equality accommodate imperatives of recognition and historical redress? What light do theories of intersectionality, postcolonialism and race throw on issues of difference and recognition.

POLS 3018: Conflict, Stability and State Building in Africa Semester 2

This course explores the various ways in which factors have shaped state-building efforts in sub-Saharan Africa in the wake of decolonisation. Using a combination of thematic analysis and individual case studies, the course begins with an historical consideration of the causes and consequences of the staggered transition from pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial forms of political authority and legitimacy. The course considers a number of key themes which have played a central role in either promoting or undermining state-building efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. Since patterns of violent conflict have played a major role in the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa, the course also gives sustained consideration to the underlying causes behind recent and ongoing conflicts, the different ways in which wars have been conducted, and the types of efforts and responses which have emerged both during and after violent conflicts.


Postgraduate Programmes

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