Politics: An Introduction (Online)

Course summary

Politics: An Introduction (Online)


Politics and policy has an impact on us all, whether or not we choose to be politically active. An understanding of the key elements of politics is essential if we are to understand how and why political decisions are made, how governments work and make sense of national and global events.

There is much more to the study of politics than observing elections and who voted for whom. Certainly, what motivates us to choose one candidate or political party than another is a key element of practical politics and for many of us, the only time that we actively participate in politics. The study of politics is undoubtedly about power and, in particular, the power exercised by the state over the citizen. It is also concerned with the power exercised over states, increasingly by large multi-national companies, international organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and by the activities of the financial markets. Political parties, political movements and governmental systems are the product of ideas about social organisation and centuries of social, economic and political change and often upheaval. This course brings together these key dimensions of the theory and practice of politics and evolution of the contemporary state.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. Introducing Politics.
• Politics as a social science subject
• Key elements of politics: ideas, behaviour, institutions and policy processes
• Identifying state forms and functions
• State-citizen relationships

2. Key Concepts in Politics.
• The relationship between power and authority
• Identifying and classifying rights and freedoms
• Equality as a key element of justice

3. Political Ideas and the Modern State.
• Idea of the ‘social contract’ and rise of the liberal state
• Collectivism, social provision and the liberal-democratic state
• Marx and the capitalist state

4. Political Ideologies and Movements of the Left.
• Marxism and communism
• Social democracy and reformism
• Nationalsim and national liberation
• Collectivism and state intervention
• Feminism

5. Political Ideologies and Movements of the Right.
• Conservatism
• Fascism and National Socialism
• Neo-fascism
• Neo-liberalism

6. Political Behaviour.
• Political identity and voting behaviour
• Political parties and interest groups as political vehicles
• Impact of the mass media on politics and government
• Comparison of electoral systems

7. Government and Governmental Systems.
• Centralised and devolved systems of government
• Legislative systems and representation
• Constitutions
• Leadership in government

8. Policy-making and Implementation.
• The notion of ‘governance’ in public administration
• Models for decision-making
• Management processes and policy implementation

9. Trends and Issues in International Politics.
• Theories of international politics
• The Cold War and its aftermath
• Conflict in the Middle East

10. Globalisation and the Nation-State.
• Theories of Globalization
• Globalization and its critics
• Institutes of economic governance
• The idea of global governance

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in this course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books:

  • Tansey, S. and Jackson, N., Politics: the Basics [2014], Routledge, London
  • Leftwich, A. (ed)What is Politics? [2004] Polity, Cambridge


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Home/EU Fee: £260.00
Non-EU Fee: £295.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Dr Ian Taylor

Ian was awarded his doctorate from the LSE in 1977. Having taught previously at Bristol Polytechnic and Exeter University, he spent thirty years at Aston University, where he became Head of Public Policy in 2009. He has taught part-time for the Open University since 1985 and for the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education since 2011.

Course aims

This course aims to to introduce participants to the study of politics. This course will enable participants to:

  • Gain an understanding of the principal theories, concepts and ideologies that have influenced the development of the contemporary state
  • Develop an understanding of political behaviour
  • Understand how legislative and governmental systems work
  • Appreciate the connection between the global and local through studying policy-making and implementation processes

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to analyse and discuss ideas criticallyli>
  • The ability to identify and compare the key characteristics of political and governmental institutions and how they function/li>
  • The ability to compare and contrast politics in different countries
  • The ability to research current political issues and relate them to the course material

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.