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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 and 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


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)


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


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 will introduce you some of the core concepts you need to study politics. If you want to understand how politics works you need to understand the basic building blocks which shape political behaviour and political institutions. This means focusing upon how governments are established and legitimated, how they operate in practice, and the effects of different forms of identity based upon class, race, gender, and citizenship. As part of the course, we will look at how the relationship between political leaders and the masses has been imagined, how it has been justified and defended, and where and how lines have been drawn between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. In addition, we will also examine the effects of market forces and economic interests, and the ways in which both citizens and special interest groups have mobilised to bring about political and social change. Finally, the course features a strong focus on the history and politics of Africa, since it is essential to pay close attention to both context and history to fully understand how political life is organised. 

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.


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

Social Theories of Modernity (also listed as The State, Modernity and the Constitution of the Political) is an introductory course in political theory. It explores the concept of modernity and the constitution of social and political forms associated with it. In taking up these themes, the course focuses on key moments and writers that have shaped perspectives on modern societies. Although the course begins with a discussion of 18th and 19th Century European reflections on the modern, it also pays close attention to what these reflections hide. The second section of the course therefore turns to what Walter Mignolo has called 'the darker side of Western modernity' in order to rethink the concept of modernity in relation to the history of slavery and colonial domination.  Throughout this course we will be trying to understand the ways in which the emergence of modern political practices come to be linked to specific conceptions of power, knowledge and subjectivity. 

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.


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 ‘difference’ (cultural/group inequality/identity). Questions addressed include: 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 right 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

Colonial rule continues to cast a long shadow over contemporary Africa. The legacies of colonialism can be found in many spheres. From a political standpoint, colonialism has left post-colonial Africa with particular models of governance, legal authority and territorial organization, with the most prominent inheritance being that of state sovereignty, which is commonly divided into i) internal sovereignty, where a state claims exclusive jurisdiction over a clearly demarcated territory, and ii) external sovereignty, where claims to speak on behalf of the citizens of the territory in question are accepted as legitimate by other sovereign states, who formally recognize each other as equals. From a sociological and cultural standpoint, colonialism has left post-colonial Africa with models of identity and belonging, with some of the most prominent inheritances revolving around ideas and ideologies of nationalism, citizenship, ethnicity and racial difference. 
The primary goal of this course is to explore the various ways in which these types of factors have shaped state-building efforts in sub-Saharan Africa in the wake of decolonisation. Having established the larger context within which historical and more recent events have transpired in the first half of this course, we go on to consider a number of key themes which have played a central role in either promoting or undermining state-building efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the main political, social and economic themes which will be considered here are the political dynamics and regional variations associated with i) violence and its consequences, with a specific focus on the political economy of violence, terrorism, transitional justice, post-conflict reconstruction and ii) the relationship between states in sub-Saharan Africa and the global economy, with a specific focus on intersections between local and global.