Political Theory Capstone Projects

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    • 00:00


    • 00:11

      DAVID HOWARTH: Hi, there.My name is David Howarth.[David Howarth, Professor, University of Essex.]I'm in the Department of Government.I'm a professor of political theory.And today we're going to have a lookat the way in which students into political theorymay approach the Capstone project.The division of political theory and publicpolicy in the Department of Government

    • 00:32

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: contains a number of different strands,and Capstone projects can be donein any one of those different strands.In fact, there are, I would say, at least five different strandsof doing political theory in the Department of Government.In the first place, one could do a project

    • 00:53

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: in the history of political thinking or political thought.[history of political thinking or thought]Here the focus would be on havinga look at some key texts in the canonof Western political theory.For example, one could have a lookat John Locke's changing views of tolerationor Thomas Hobbes' theory of political obligation

    • 01:15

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: as he develops it in the Leviathan.A second strand of political theoryin the Department of Government wemay call normative political theory.[normative political theory]Here we focus on the evaluation of a practice, policy,or institution in terms of its underlying politicalprinciples.Can we justify a particular practice or not?

    • 01:38

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: And can we, as it were, evaluate different principlesthat inform a practice?Consider, for example, different electoral systemsin a liberal democratic society.We may have, as it were, a discussion between thosewho favor first past the post electoral systemsand those who favor different forms

    • 01:60

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: of proportional representation.Each of these different electoral systemsis underpinned by different principles.The one might value more the role of representation,as in proportional representationsystems, and the other might value more strongaccountable government, which comes with first pastthe post systems.

    • 02:20

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: So what we would do when we would evaluate thoseelectoral systems is have a look at the principles about howthey ought to be structured, and wewould evaluate different principlesand different electoral systems.Which is better?Which is more preferred?Or on the other hand, a very important strandof normative political theory arising

    • 02:40

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: from the work of John Rawls wouldbe to have a look at the different principles of justicethat ought to govern the basic structure of society--the basic way we distribute-- the way we distribute goodsand resources in society accordingto those different principles of justice.

    • 03:01

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: A third strand of political theory,critical political theory, also has a normative focus, in thatit is focused on principles.But unlike normative political theory,its starting point tends to be on a set of puzzling issuesthat confront us in society, and then itseeks to adopt a more historical and sociological approach where

    • 03:24

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: it seeks to trace out the emergenceand formation of a particular issueor a perplexing phenomenon that confronts us.Say, for example, the problem of rising Islamophobia,or the exclusion of marginalized groups in societyor particular individuals.So critical political theory would

    • 03:44

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: start by describing the way in which that perplexing puzzlecame about by looking at the relations of powerand exclusion in their production.And it would seek to criticize those moments of powerand exclusion.And it would seek through that criticismto develop alternative ideals and norms through that processof description.

    • 04:06

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: One of the ways-- and this would be a fourth strandof political theory-- in which the critical political theoryapproach can be developed is capturedunder the name of ideology and discourseanalysis, which is also present in the department.As the name suggests, ideology and discourse analysisfocuses on the role of language, rhetoric, arguments,

    • 04:27

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and discourse in the contestationsaround various issues in society.Here the focus then is on describingthe various discourses, within which issues are discussed,and through which different positions are contested.And it also seeks to see how some discourses

    • 04:48

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: or some languages become dominant or hegemonic.At the same time, it is also concernedwith the role of ideology in society, where ideologyis understood either to justify a certain set of policiesor practices, or it can be seen to somehow conceal or somehowmystify relations of domination and power

    • 05:10

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and make them appear natural and obvious.So ideology and discourse analysisadds to the critical political theory perspectiveby this focus on the role of discourse and ideology.So we have those four different perspectivesto doing political theory, but we also in the department

    • 05:30

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: have a particular focus on the role of policy and policyanalysis.[policy and policy analysis]When we look at policy analysis from a political theorypoint of view, we can both adopt a normativeand a critical political theory perspective.If we look at these issues in normative terms,we could look at a particular policy

    • 05:51

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and asks whether or not it is just justified.Is commercial surrogacy justified today?Should prohibited substances like marijuana be legalized?Is there at all any justificationin any circumstances for capital punishment?Here we would have a look at a policy

    • 06:12

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and we would examine whether or notits principles can be justified.On the other hand, critical political theorywill take a particular policy or policy regimeand look at its emergence and its effectson particular people in society.It's task then will be to describe

    • 06:32

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: the emergence and the creation of that policyand seek to criticize and evaluate practices and outcomesof policy making processes.For example, because of the global financial crisis,there were demands for banking reform.So the focus here would be on havinga look at those proposals to reform banks

    • 06:53

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: to see their emergence, to see how they were argued for,and to see which proposals eventually get acceptedand endorsed by government.So far then I've outlined at least five different waysthat we may do political theory and do a Capstoneproject within those strands, but I

    • 07:15

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: would argue that each of these different strandsshares a common starting point when we're doing research.The common starting point is that westart with a puzzle or a perplexing phenomenon,and that is the thing that kick starts the research process.Now as I discuss with my students,and as it's for myself too, there

    • 07:36

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: is a big issue about where do these puzzles come from?How do we generate these puzzles?Well, there at least two ways in which we generate puzzles.On the one hand, when we read the basic texts of politicaltheory, when we engage in the various debates about the coreissues in political theory, we're often struck by certaincontradictions or by certain puzzles that we encounter when

    • 07:59

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: we read texts like Locke or Hobbes or Marx , and so on.So by reading the literature, we may, as it were,start to form a puzzle that we can explore further.On the other hand, in our everyday liveswe're often confronted by pressing issues whichwe have to try and think about.

    • 08:20

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: And this could be another source of the puzzlesthat we may explore in the Capstone project--some of the key issues that confront usin our everyday existence.For example, the migration crisisthat is unfolding in Europe today--that might be a source for us to explorethe history of immigration and migration, migrationpolicies, immigration policies, and processes of exclusion

    • 08:43

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and domination, and whether or not any policy of immigrationis, in fact, justifiable- any formof prohibition on immigration is justifiable or not.But puzzles need to be doable as research projects,and they need to be feasible.In other words, they must connectto the relevant literatures and debates

    • 09:04

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: in contemporary political theory.And thirdly, these puzzles are also constrained by the factthat they should be translated into meaningful researchquestions that we can explore and address.We need, in other words, to turn outpuzzles-- the puzzling aspects of our livesor the puzzling aspects of a text--into doable research questions.

    • 09:27

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: And for me, these research questionshave to be as precise and clearly formulatedas possible, and that they should be answerable, as well.And not only should they be answerable,but that the answers that we provideshould, in principle, be potentially wrong.In other words, to use the philosophyof science language of Karl Popper,

    • 09:49

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: they should be falsifiable.There should be falsifiable solutions to the questionsthat we pose so that we can see whether or notother alternatives could do the trick just as well.I want now to turn to a concrete puzzle,and it's a concrete puzzle that I

    • 10:09

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: have been working on for some time in my research,and it concerns airport policy in the United Kingdom.As you will know, in the last 15 to 20 years,there's been a lot of debate about the expansionof UK airports, especially in the southeast of England.

    • 10:29

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: When the New Labour government of Tony Blair came into powerin 1997, there were growing demands that we should expandour airport capacity.So what he proposed in the year 2000was a widespread public discussion and deliberationwhere he asked all the key stakeholdersand interested parties to put forward their proposals

    • 10:52

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: about how to solve this problem of the UK's airport capacity.And in 2003, following this consultation,he came up with the air transportwhite paper, which gave the go aheadfor a widespread expansion of the UK's airport capacity,

    • 11:12

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: particularly in the southeast of England,focused on Heathrow and Stansted.Now if we fast forward to 2010 when the coalition governmentcame into power under David Cameron,it is striking to note that one of the first actsof the new government was to placea moratorium on all expansion of airports

    • 11:34

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: in the southeast of England, and to call to a haltthe need for a third runway.So what we had was a U-turn, a reversalof policy on this issue.And the immediate puzzle is this--why is it that a conservative-dominatedgovernment that came to power in 2010,

    • 11:56

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: which has historically been pro-business and pro-economicgrowth, would have called a halt to the expansion of airports,which are largely seen as pro-growth and pro-business?Now, one of the ways we may address this puzzleis to bring in the question of climate change.What happened between 2003 and 2010

    • 12:19

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: was the growing salience of the problem of climate change.And what is noted in the statement surroundingthe decision by the new government in 2010to stop airport expansion was that itsaid that the 2003 air transport white paperpaid insufficient attention to the problem of climate change.And so when we're doing an analysis of this issue

    • 12:41

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: we must focus on the way in which the issue of climatechange was put onto the public agenda,and the way in which a coalition of forces, includingenvironmentalists, local citizens that were impactedby the growth of the airports, and importantly, scientistsand experts were able to use the issue of climate change

    • 13:03

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: to challenge the government's proposals.What they showed was that there was a contradiction in the NewLabour policy.On the one hand, New Labour wanted to promote economicgrowth and development.It wanted to support the aviation industry.But on the other hand, it was alsocommitted to trying to tackle the problem of climate change

    • 13:25

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: and the growing carbon emissions in which aviationplayed an important role.There was a contradiction in the New Labour government and itspreferred policy options.So what we see here is the way in whicha discourse coalition-- a coalition of forces--were able to mobilize arguments.

    • 13:45

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: They were able to contest the decision of the New Labourgovernment to build a new runway at Heathrow and other placesin the southeast of England.Here you would see then the operation of power and rhetoricand discourse in the attempt to deal with this policy problem.But note also that this focus on, as it were,

    • 14:07

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: the historical shift in policy on aviationalso has important normative dimensions.Because on the one hand of the argument,those that are in favor of expansion of airportscouch their arguments in terms of the necessity and importanceof economic growth.Economic growth will provide jobs,

    • 14:27

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: it will increase the competitiveness of UK industryin the economy in relation to its rivals,and thus will promote the interests of the citizensof the United Kingdom.On the other hand, there are thosethat would question the logic of economic growthand its benefits.They would argue that untrammeled economic growth

    • 14:50

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: is bad for the environment and bad for the citizens.And that rather than a logic of economic growth,there should be a logic of sufficiency, which would yielda more sustainable society.That therefore we should put curbs and controlson the expansion of aviation and airportsin the interests of the environmentand the citizens that have to live in society.

    • 15:13

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: So what we see here is two contending setsof arguments informed by very different principles.And a normative project would haveto make an adjudication as to whichof these sets of principles were more preferred than the others.Should we prefer economic growth and its benefits,or should we value more the environment and the need

    • 15:35

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: for a sustainable aviation policy?So that's the example that we might use,which would capture the different aspectsand the different strands of political theoryin the department.We would see here a focus on policy issues.We also see a focus on the critical dimension of lookingat the struggles and the power relations that

    • 15:56

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: are going on in the production of policy,but we would also have a look at the normative element.We would look at the principles thatought to govern an aviation policy in the future.But we should also note that whenwe're conducting our research and developing a researchproject, we're going to have to use certain methods to conduct

    • 16:16

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: our research, and each of the different perspectiveshas different sets of methods available to it.If the research is going to be focused, for example,on a set of issues that arise from someof the core texts of political theory--the works of John Locke or Mary Wollstonecraft or John Rawls--then we may want to focus on developing tools

    • 16:39

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: of textual analysis, looking at the way arguments are developedin a text, the structures of those arguments,as well as the concepts that are used.And we may want to situate those texts in particular contextsand in relationship to other arguments.So if the approach is going to be focused on texts,we need a whole range of tools to do textual analysis.

    • 17:03

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: On the other hand, if we adopt an approach that'sgoing to be more normative in its orientation,then we may look for other methods.For example, in the work of John Rawlsthere's a strong interest in renewing contract theory--theories of the social contract--and marrying them with notions of reflective equilibrium.

    • 17:24

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: John Rawls offers us a way that wemay think about the generation of certain principlesand the way in which those principles inform practices,and also the way in which we may testthose practices and those policiesand the principles with which theyare supposed to be matched.So the methods of contract theoryand reflective equilibrium offer one way

    • 17:47

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: of doing a normative political project.If one is opting more for a projectin critical political theory, then wemay draw upon the work of genealogy and deconstructionas they have been developed, for instance, by thinkerslike Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida.Here the focus is on developing a set of techniques

    • 18:09

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: that can explain the emergence and the developmentof a phenomenon, focusing on the powerrelations, the exclusions, and the internal contradictionsof the development of those phenomena.But when we are doing our research,it's likely that as political theory has developed,it's more and more the case that our theoretical issues are

    • 18:29

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: connected up with empirical issues,as well, as I have demonstrated.So it is likely that in doing a Capstone project,one might focus on developing a case study,or one might engage in a comparative exercisewhere we compare different cases around a particular issue.Here we would have to think a little bitabout what is the role of case studies in doing

    • 18:52

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: political theory?How do we select cases?How do the cases connect to the puzzlesthat we want to address?Why, if we want to compare two cases,why do we choose those cases?What kind of research design should wehave that will make sure that that comparative research ismeaningful and productive?And also, as political theory has developed,

    • 19:14

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: we may also want to draw upon certain quantitative empiricaldata, as well as statistical evidence to make our arguments.So here some political theorists wouldsay we need a mixed methods approach wherewe combine qualitative and quantitative research together.So when one is doing a Capstone project, one has a puzzle,

    • 19:35

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: one has a research question, one engages in empirical research,and then one produces a potential solutionto the puzzles that we are exploring.Finally, when we're doing a Capstone project,no matter what direction, no matter whattheoretical perspective we adopt,

    • 19:56

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: there are, for me, two golden rulesthat have to be borne in mind.On the one hand, confronting a large projectis often a daunting task, and there's always the potentialthat we may procrastinate.So the main thing is to get cracking immediately, to startthinking about those puzzles and those research questions,to develop a bibliography, to start thinking about what is

    • 20:18

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: the appropriate method to use.And on the other hand, because it is a large project,we may often get disillusioned and disappointed in our successand how well we're doing.And here, for me, the second golden rule is seek advice.Ask your supervisor.Ask your lecturer for some help to solve the problems

    • 20:38

      DAVID HOWARTH [continued]: that you're confronting.So for me the two golden rules-- don't procrastinate and seekadvice.I wish you well in doing a project in political theory.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Political Theory Capstone Projects

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Professor David Howarth outlines how to begin a capstone project in political theory. He describes how to design research questions and choose research methodologies to establish an effective research project.

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Political Theory Capstone Projects

Professor David Howarth outlines how to begin a capstone project in political theory. He describes how to design research questions and choose research methodologies to establish an effective research project.

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