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Living political ideas

Should religious beliefs shape how politics are conducted in the contemporary world? Does violence have a role in politics? Should animals as well as humans be represented in politics? What do bodies and sexuality have to do with politics? Living political ideas is an exciting OU level 3 politics and international studies module that debates these and similar questions. It demonstrates the relevance of political ideas for understanding contemporary issues in national and world politics. The award winning study materials include software, video and audio on the website (British Universities Film & Video Council, Learning on Screen Awards 2009).

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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Student Reviews

A very interesting course which builds nicely on from the Level 2 politics module. This module is mostly delivered online...
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I have to say that this has been by far the most interesting and absorbing course that I have completed...
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What you will study

The module is organised around an introduction and five parts. In each part, you’ll be thinking about the different ways that political ideas ‘live’.

The first part is called Representing the People and investigates the idea of political representation. It traces some of the history and development of the idea in Europe and beyond, and considers whether there is now a crisis of representation.

The second part, Political Animals, looks at how distinctions between humans and animals constitute and challenge modern notions of politics. Do we have good reasons for excluding animals from the political domain? Should nature be given a strong political voice in our era of global environmental degradation?

The third part, Politics and Religion, explores the contentious area of the relationship between religion and politics. Should religious beliefs play an explicit part in politics? Or is it important that church and state be kept separate? Should politics be a secular matter with room for a plurality of religious convictions expressed by citizens in their private lives? How do religious ideas impact on riots in France, the abortion debate in the US and state formation in Iran?

The fourth part is called The Body in Politics. It discusses how explanations of the body are both incorporated into politics and challenge them. Politics is often thought of as being the concern of the mind – making rational policies. How do the treatment of disabled people, the question of care for the elderly, matters of sexuality, and developments in genetic screening and modification challenge this notion?

The final part, Violence and Politics, examines how the problem of violence underpins modern understandings of politics. Is politics always, at root, about violence? And what are we to make of the notion of state violence? How did various ideas about the relationship between violence and politics play out in the civil war in Sierra Leone, the struggle for national independence in Algeria, and the break-up of Yugoslavia?

You’ll be attracted to this module if you’ve an interest in the importance of political ideas in politics and international relations or want to make sense of current events. The module is delivered primarily online, however, print versions of political texts are provided, so you won’t always be studying at your computer. We also want you to learn to become independent learners through this module, and plenty of help is given for you to build these skills.

You will learn

You will learn how to interpret contemporary political events by using political theory texts. This will help you bring out the underlying ‘living’ ideas at stake, as well as the historical resonances often to be found in the political debates of the present. You’ll also build on your ability to reflect on the meaning of a piece of text and analyse it, whether it is a political theory extract, a newspaper article, or a work memo.

Vocational relevance

Modules in government and politics are relevant to a wide range of employment. Politics graduates can be found in financial and commercial occupations – such as business management, banking and insurance – and in a variety of other professions, including the law and accountancy. They are particularly attractive to the public sector: the civil service, local government and health administration.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. You will also be able to take part in online discussion forums with other students to support your studies.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) is a project that takes the place of an examination. 

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at levels 1 and 2 with the OU. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with the OU.

Our level 1 module Introducing the social sciences (DD102) and level 2 module Power dissent, equality: understanding contemporary politics (DD203) provide an excellent grounding for this module. A world of whose making? (DU301) also provides some relevant politics and international relations background.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

No specific preparatory work is required. 

If you have studied Power, dissent, equality: understanding contemporary politics (DD203), you might like to revisit Part 4 of the module, called Living Political Ideas (including its book and the three audiovisual components), to gain an initial sense of what is meant by ‘living political ideas’. 

If you’ve not studied this level 2 module, you might like to consider getting hold of Living Political Ideas, Andrews, G. and Saward, M. (eds) (2005) Edinburgh University Press.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £2632.00

Registration closes 11/09/14 (places subject to availability)


The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 02/09/2014.

What's included

Module website and print versions of the political texts studied online.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, for use with a web browser. There is also software to download and install on your computer.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device you may have difficulties with some software, check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Hannah Arendt On Violence Harcourt Brace International £6.99 - ISBN 9780156695008

If you have a disability

You will need to be able to work with multimedia audiovisual materials. You will acquire a broad range of skills in the use of these materials as part of the learning experience that the module provides.

The main components of the module are on the website. You will need to spend significant amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. If you use special hardware or software you must, well before the course begins, find out whether it will work with the study materials.

One of the module learning outcomes is to access, manage and analyse information in a software-driven multimedia environment. Blind and severely partially sighted students may experience difficulty in achieving this learning outcome.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.