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Topics in Political Science

Module Code: PO4740

Module Name: Topics in Political Science 2018–19

  • ECTS Weighting: 15
  • Semester/Term Taught: Michaelmas + Hilary Term
  • Contact Hours: 1-2 hours per week. The module is taught primarily through class discussions, not through lectures
  • Prerequisites: The module is not open to visiting students
  • Subject matter: MT 2018 The Military and Politics; HT 2018 Media and Politics
  • Module Personnel: Lecturers - Dr Jesse Dillon Savage in MT, Dr. Liam Kneafsey in HT.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the different theoretical approaches to understanding the role of the military in politics;
  • discuss the role of the military in state formation;
  • understand how the military influences domestic political developments such as regime change;
  • explain the role the military plays in both democracies and authoritarian regimes.


  • Engage with different empirical and theoretical approaches to the role of mass media in society
  • Identify causal mechanisms by which media coverage can (and cannot) shape public opinion on issues such as welfare, immigration, and conflict
  • Compare and analyse the sources of influence on media coverage
  • Evaluate the effects of media framing, agenda-setting and persuasion on citizens and the underlying psychological processes
  • Consider the role of fake news and the information wars in shaping contemporary political discourse

Module learning aims

MT 2018: To build students’ understanding of the relationship between the military and politics. The module will provide students with a detailed understanding of how the military influences politics in a variety of spheres both domestic and international. It will explain the challenge of civil-military relations and the effects that civil-military relations can have on political development.

HT 2019: This module aims to build students’ understanding of the causal mechanisms by which the mass media coverage is shaped and the effects that media content has on political life.

Module content

MT 2018: In this term the module studies the role of militaries in politics. One of the key strategic dilemmas raised by the military is that an organization that has the power to protect a polity from external threats has the potential to threaten the polity itself. The goal of this module is to help understand how this dilemma has been resolved in a variety of contexts. It explores the role that the military played in state formation, how civilian control over the military is institutionalised or breaks down, how the military affects domestic competition and conflict, and how the military can affect foreign policy. These issues are examined cross-nationally, including developing and developed countries, democracies and non-democracies.

HT 2019: The mass media have long been considered the ‘fourth estate’ responsible for watching over government and providing the critical information and opinion by which citizens evaluate political issues, actors, and events. For this reason, we will investigate the effects of differential media coverage on public opinion of major contemporary issues namely elections, welfare policy, immigration and terrorism. However, many contend that the media are not simply the means by which information is transferred but constitute political actors themselves. We therefore also explore the causal factors that may shape media coverage and how this varies both across media organisations and across time and space. Finally, technological innovation has revolutionised the mass media landscape. We will engage in depth with key developments such as the rise of soft news, eroding trust in media and journalism, social media and polarisation, and the rise (and meaning) of fake news and the online information wars.

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Recommended reading list

For MT 2018: Detailed readings will be given in the module handout. Key readings:
Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State; the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957
Singh, Naunihal. Seizing power: the strategic logic of military coups. JHU Press, 2014.
Talmadge, Caitlin. The Dictator's Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes. Cornell University Press, 2015.

For HT 2019: Detailed readings will be given in the module handout. Key readings are:

Bennett, W. Lance. 2012. News: The Politics of Illusion. New York: Pearson Longman.
Ladd, Jonathan M. 2012. Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Stroud, Natalie J. 2011. Niche news: The politics of news choice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fletcher, R., Cornia, A., Graves, L. and Nielsen, R.K., 2018. Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe. Reuters Institute Factsheet.


Assessment details

100% coursework, split equally between Michaelmas and Hilary terms (50% each).

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