1 year full time, 2 years part time
Starts September 2017

Social and Political Thought

Our MA brings together social theory, political theory and philosophy. You learn about the history of social and political thought, and study political and social movements. Our course covers both historical traditions and contemporary developments.

Our research strengths include: 

  • social theory (especially Marxism, Hegel, hermeneutics and critical theory) 
  • recent democratic, socialist and environmentalist thought and practice 
  • the history of political, social and economic thought 
  • the philosophy of social science and the sociology of knowledge 
  • contemporary political philosophy 
  • cosmopolitanism.

Key facts

  • Philosophy at Sussex is ranked 5th in the UK (The Guardian University Guide 2018).
  • Study on a genuinely interdisciplinary course that bridges subject boundaries, and uses both empirical and normative analysis, while benefiting from our specialised knowledge of selected areas in contemporary thought and the major European historical tradition.
  • Take the opportunity to get involved with our in-house journal Studies in Social and Political Thought.

How will I study?

There are core modules taught in the autumn term, and in the spring term you choose from a list of options.

The largest assessed element in the MA is the 15,000-word dissertation. In addition, the core modules and options are assessed by 5,000-word term papers.

Full-time and part-time study

Choose to study this course full time or part time, to fit around your work and family life. 

For details about the part-time course, contact Philosophy Postgraduate Convener Dr Gordon Finlayson at

What will I study?

  • Module list

    Core modules

    Core modules are taken by all students on the course. They give you a solid grounding in your chosen subject and prepare you to explore the topics that interest you most.

    • Text and Critique in Social and Political Thought

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      The module explores the key texts of social and political thought and responses to them by contemporaries and subsequent critics. The module is organised around a reading of key sections from texts such as Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Marx's critique of Hegel.

    • Theorizing the Social

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module introduces you to the major contemporary approaches to theorising social and political reality and examines how they articulate explanatory and normative concerns. The topics covered concern some of the major contemporary debates on the idea of the social in social and political thought. Consideration is also given to how some of the classical conceptions of the social are challenged by recent developments.

    • Dissertation - SPT

      60 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

      You undertake supervised work on a dissertation of 15,000 words.


    Alongside your core modules, you can choose options to broaden your horizons and tailor your course to your interests.

    • Capitalism and its Critics

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This module provides an account of major theories of capitalism in the tradition of social theory and political economy. It begins with a survey of the classical approaches of Adam Smith and Karl Marx before looking at the main theories of capitalism in the 20th century, mainly Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polayni. We examine each theorist with an emphasis on different elements of capitalism:

      • Smith on the market's 'invisible hand'
      • Marx on capital's exploitation of labour
      • Weber on the foundations of economic rationality
      • Schumpeter and Keynes on the instability of capitalism due to its monetary and financial character
      • Polanyi on the embedded nature of capitalism.

      The second topic covers some of the main debates about capitalism and its alternatives in the 20th century, such as Hayak's The Road to Serfdom (1947), the social welfare approaches of Beveridge, Crossland and Marshall, the later critiques of the welfare state by theorists such as Habermas, Offe and O'Connor, and the Social Limits to Growth (1976) arguments of Hirsch and others.

      The third focus of the module is on recent theories of capitalism, principally David Harvey's critique of post-Fordist capitalism, Castell's account of the rise of global networked capitalism, Hall's and Soskice's varieties of capitalism theory, and Boltanski and Chiapello's The New Spirit of Capitalism (2006).

      The module concludes by looking at debates around the post-2008 economic crisis, the relation between capitalism and democracy, and feminist and ecological criticism of capitalism.

    • Democracy and Human Rights

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In contemporary political philosophy, rights are often described as the necessary foundation of democratic government. It's thought that the democratic polity couldn't function without the establishment of and adherence to particular rights. The democratic values of individual equality, trust and compromise are said to help foster a political culture respectful of rights. And enshrining human rights in law is often said to ensure liberal governance.  

      The module starts by studying the first attempts to establish political systems based upon rights and contemporary criticisms and justifications of democracy. Democracy was often seen as a source of internal division, a dangerous motor of extremism and unnecessary innovation, and a cause of international instability (because of the usual support of the people for external wars). Yet it could also be described as a just and wise form of government that upholds a polity whose patriotic populace are devoted to the public good.

      You study authors who saw democracy and rights as mutually sustaining, from Condorcet and Thomas Paine onwards. You'll explore how such authors addressed the issues of necessity in politics and strove to secure national unity, commercial success and national defence. 

      You also scrutinise the presumed fit between rights and democracy by examining the origins of modern ideas about both concepts, from Aristotle's defence of the natural slave and scholastic ideas about rights to the 17th-century attempt to create a minimalist natural law and beyond. Enlightenment-era authors, especially in France and Scotland, put forward modules for reform. They intended to curb the perceived excesses of commercial society and protect certain civil liberties. Some reformers, such as the physiocrats, thought the assertion of rights was key to French economic and political revival – even if this was premised on the avoidance of democracy. For the physiocrats (and for so many early modern authors) there was no necessary connection between democracy and rights. The main goal of politics was to avoid the violence and irrationality associated with mob rule and the active role of the people as political agents.

      The module ends by studying current presumed connections between universal human rights and democratic governance.

    • Global Security and Human Rights

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This module looks at the often problematic relationship between ‘security’ and the global ‘public good’ within international law.

      We examine the historical development of international law in relation to colonialism and globalisation and go on to consider the possibilities and limitations of new modes of global governance. We'll look at how international law has ordered and shaped global space in relation to property, economic organisation and the use of force, and investigate the various legal, moral and political arguments that lie behind these changes.

      The module combines international law scholarship, critical theory and case studies to assess the global significance of the idea of ‘security’ today.

    • Hegel and Marx

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The first half of this module examines Hegel's social and political philosophy and its place in his overall account of human consciousness, historical change, and the Absolute. You'll consider notions such as recognition, spirit, freedom and ethical life in Hegel, and their political implications.

      In the second half, you examine Marx as an ethical and political thinker. You'll look at a range of his works, beginning with his earliest, investigating his ideas of freedom, species-being, alienation, class, ideology, fetishism and capital, and asking on what basis he advocates and expects the replacement of capitalism by communism.

    • Language, Art and Representation

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In this module, you conduct a detailed examination of current research relating to language, art and representation - as undertaken by faculty members in the department from both the analytic and the continental traditions.

      You can explore your own research interests in relation to the diverse current perspectives offered by faculty, and write your research paper in the area that interests you most.

      The specific topics included in this module will vary according to the research of the specific faculty members teaching it.

      For example, possible topics may be drawn from areas such as:

      • analytic aesthetics
      • continental aesthetics
      • philosophy of language
      • philosophy of literature
      • fiction.

      Time will be given to helping you develop your own research.

    • Philosophical Research Skills

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      In this module, you develop the skills required for effective research and prepare yourself for writing your dissertation.

      You cover topics including:

      • choosing a research topic
      • identifying the relevant literature
      • assessing arguments
      • writing a critical literature review
      • critically evaluating your own work
      • writing in a professional manner
      • delivering an effective presentation
      • structuring a dissertation
      • writing a dissertation.
    • The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This module explores the origins, development and impact of the ideas of some of the major theorists of the Frankfurt School. We begin by looking at the early ideas of the Frankfurt School in 1930s, which were influenced by Marx. Then we address the ways that the Frankfurt School theorists attempted to integrate various other aspects of thought in response to historical developments.

      We will focus on texts by Benjamin, Habermas, Horkheimer, Kircheimer, Marcuse, Neumann and Adorno. But we also look at the theorists that most influenced them, such as Hegel, Marx and Lukács. In addition, we'll look at certain key themes in Frankfurt School criticism, including:

      • dialectics and negative dialectics
      • determinate negation
      • critique and immanent critique
      • positivism
      • instrumental reason
      • Enlightenment.
    • War, Terror, Violence and International Law

      30 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      You'll focus upon the contemporary problems of war and terrorism within a historical, political and global context.

      Drawing upon approaches from international law, political and critical theory and international relations, this module examines law's various attempts to define what constitutes 'legitimate violence'. We'll look at some of the dominant legal, moral and political arguments behind the justification and condemnation of acts of war, terror and public violence. You also examine:

      • the law's criminalisation of non-state violence
      • the use of new theological arguments to justify 'humanitarian wars'
      • the relationship between violence and international security
      • the ethics of violence.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree or above in a humanities or social sciences subject.

English language requirements

Standard level (IELTS 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each section)

Find out about other English language qualifications we accept.

English language support

Don’t have the English language level for your course? Find out more about our pre-sessional courses.

Additional information for international students

We welcome applications from all over the world. Find out about international qualifications suitable for our Masters courses.

Visas and immigration

Find out how to apply for a student visa

Fees and scholarships

How much does it cost?


Home: £7,700 per year

EU: £7,700 per year

Channel Islands and Isle of Man: £7,700 per year

Overseas: £15,100 per year

Note that your fees may be subject to an increase on an annual basis.

How can I fund my course?

Postgraduate Masters loans

Borrow up to £10,280 to contribute to your postgraduate study.

Find out more about Postgraduate Masters Loans


Our aim is to ensure that every student who wants to study with us is able to despite financial barriers, so that we continue to attract talented and unique individuals.

Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship (2017)

Open to students with a 1st class from a UK university or excellent grades from an EU university and offered a F/T place on a Sussex Masters in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship

Sussex Graduate Scholarship (2017)

Open to Sussex students who graduate with a first or upper second-class degree and offered a full-time place on a Sussex Masters course in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Graduate Scholarship

Sussex India Scholarships (2017)

Sussex India Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from India commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex India Scholarships

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Malaysia commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Malaysia Scholarships

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships are worth £3,500 or £5,000 and are for overseas fee paying students from Nigeria commencing a Masters in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Nigeria Scholarships

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Pakistan commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Pakistan Scholarships

How Masters scholarships make studying more affordable

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex.


Research in the Centre for Social and Political Thought is diverse but committed to critical social theory broadly construed.

  • Faculty profiles

    Prof David Berry
    Professor of Digital Humanities

    Research interests: Algorithms, Code, Computation, Critical Digital Humanities, Critical Reason, Critical Theory, Digital Humanities, History of the University, Philosophy, Political economy, Post-digital, postdigital, Social and political theory, Software Studies, University

    View profile

    Dr Anthony Booth
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

    Research interests: Applied Philosophy, Epistemic Normativity, Epistemology, Ethics, Ethics of Belief, Gettier Cases, Islamic Epistemology, Philosophy Of Mind

    View profile

    Dr Andrew Chitty
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

    Research interests: Collective action, collective intentionality, constructivism in ethics, Ethics, Fichte, Hegel, Marxism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, political theory, recognition theory

    View profile

    Prof Gerard Delanty
    Professor of Sociology & Social & Political Thought

    Research interests: capitalism, Cosmopolitanism, democracy, historical and political sociology, history and philosophy of the social sciences, modernity, Nationalism, Social and political theory, the european cultural and political heritage

    View profile

    Dr Gordon Finlayson
    Reader in Philosophy

    Research interests: Critical Theory, German Philosophy, Habermas, Hegel, History Of Philosophy, Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy

    View profile

    Dr Tarik Kochi
    Senior Lecturer

    Research interests: Critical Legal Theory, Critical Theory, Hegel, History and Theory of War, History of political economy, History of Political Thought, International Law, International Political Theory, Jurisprudence/Philosophy Of Law, Social and political theory

    View profile

    Dr Darrow Schecter
    Professor of Critical Theory and Modern European History

    Research interests: Critical Theory, critique of instrumental reason, Foucault, Gramsci, legitimacy, Libertarian socialism, Pasolini, systems theory

    View profile

    Dr Kenneth Veitch
    Senior Lecturer

    Research interests: health care law, medical law, obligation, Social policy, Social Theory, Socio Legal Studies, sociology of law, Welfare state

    View profile


Many of our graduates have gone on to have successful careers in:

  • law
  • the media
  • non-governmental organisations
  • government and administration
  • teaching.

Others have gone on to research degrees. Over the last 30 years, a substantial number of leading academics in the UK and elsewhere have graduated from the course. Among our alumni we count professors of sociology, philosophy and politics, working at universities in the UK and beyond.

Graduate destinations

90% of students from the School of History, Art History and Philosophy were in work or further study six months after graduating. Our Philosophy students have gone on to jobs including:

  • editorial assistant, Pavilion Books
  • media officer, Wickham Youth Action
  • assistant, Gareth Thomas MP.

(EPI, Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2015 for postgraduates)

Working while you study

Our Careers and Employability Centre can help you find part-time work while you study. Find out more about career development and part-time work

I gained invaluable career skills, such as clear thought, skilled analysis and a confident and direct approach to both theoretical and practical problems.”Rebecca Robbins
Trainee at the College of Law

Contact us