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Modern political ideas

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In this module you'll be investigating what political ideas are, how they are generated and the impact they have locally, nationally and internationally in shaping our world. You'll see how political ideas are studied, assess their significance and discover which thinkers and theorists best help us explore and understand the modern political world. In doing so, you'll be encouraged to draw on your own independent study of political ideas and political thinkers. You'll become equipped with the key practical skills needed to carry out research, draw on critical reflection and learn more of the writing and evaluative skills used to explore and evaluate political ideas.

What you will study

This module is explored in the following four blocks:

Block 1: Modern political ideas: An introduction
This block is an exciting introduction to the key questions of the module: what are political ideas, why study political ideas; how are political ideas generated, and why do we need thinkers and theorists? Starting with the political fall-out to the financial crisis of 2007–2008, you'll look at the core ideas of the various populist movements that grew in its wake. Moving on to contending views of Englishness, the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and the democratic question of ‘Who Speaks for Wales?’, the central theme running through the block is that political ideas ‘live’ and ‘travel’ across different historical contexts. Finally, you'll consider the very different ways political ideas have been generated from the early pamphleteers to social media.

Block 2: Democracy and the State
You'll explore key political themes of democracy, participation, leadership and the nature and power of the state. The block includes case studies of the movements for democracy in Catalonia and its historically contested relationship with the Spanish state, as well as the transition to democracy in South Africa. A key aim of this block will be to build a framework of political ideas that can both introduce some core concepts in political theory and provide an understanding of how political ideas manifest themselves in the contemporary political world. You'll consider the work and continuing relevance of theorists of the state and democracy.

Block 3: Citizenship and Noncitizens
You'll examine the idea of citizenship, considering what citizenship means and how, why and in what ways citizenship status has been contested. You'll be introduced to both classic and critical literature in this area and explore ideas and examples of unequal citizenship through a range of different case studies. Accompanying this will be an exploration of the relationship between the nation-state and citizenship and ideas that challenge this relationship.

Block 4: Ideas in action
The focus of this block will be on the ways in which political ideas influence change. You'll study the theories and consequences of revolutions (especially the Russian revolution), the nature of revolutionary thought and some of the consequences for countries that have experienced modern revolutions. You'll consider the nature of totalitarianism (through the ideas of Hannah Arendt and others) and its implications for the relationship between the state and the people and examine the role that ideas played in the fall of communism in Poland. You'll also consider the impact of ideas of personal liberation on social change in contemporary Britain before looking at ideas that underpinned the modern transformations in Iran and Iraq. The block revisits the key questions of this module – what are political ideas and how are they generated, how do they influence politics, and why study political ideas?

For the end-of-module assessment, you will have the chance to explore a thinker or a political idea of your choice.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU 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.

Either of our OU level 1 modules Investigating the social world (DD103) (now discontinued) or Global challenges: social science in action (D113) and the OU level 2 module Understanding politics: ideas and institutions in the modern world (DD211) provide ideal preparation for this module.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

The module is primarily delivered online via the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • study support
  • interactive and audio-visual resources
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorials and forums.

You'll also be provided with one printed module textbook.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Orwell, G. Nineteen Eighty Four Penguin £8.99 - ISBN 9780141187761

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll 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.

Contact us 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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD316 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Modern political ideas (DD316) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030. 


Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment