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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Policy

Undergraduate Course: Political Work (PLIT10093)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWhat do people do when they are doing politics? What does politics consist of? What is political work and how is it done? What's it like being an activist, a bureaucrat or an elected representative? What happens in meetings, and how is politics done in talk? Why do documents matter so much in doing politics, and how does politics inhere in material artefacts, spaces and buildings, too? This course seeks to explore the micro-sociology of the political process, drawing on a range of perspectives from different disciplines.
Course description Following the practice turn in politics, and specifically in policy studies and international relations, this course asks simply what it is to 'do politics'. Drawing on further, interdisciplinary and ethnographic work in anthropology, sociology and science and technology studies it asks new questions about the nature and scope of the political, and does so empirically rather than, at least in the first instance, theoretically.

The course is framed by an introduction to the social worlds of activism, administration and elected representation, following actors in the course of their everyday activities. It investigates practices of meeting, speaking and listening in different contexts, as well as of the production and reception of documents and texts. It explores the material infrastructure of politics, including its technical artefacts and the buildings and spaces in which it takes place.

In this way, the course aims to capture politics in some of its essential social forms. It makes no a priori distinction between the local, the national and the international, or between the disciplines that might be used to understand them. Its intellectual roots are diverse: they include discourse theory and practice theory as well as a range of other approaches across the social sciences.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 4 Politics/International Relations courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  24
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The course is assessed by a 4000 word course paper. This will comprise a case study of some element or aspect of 'political work', and will be derived from your own research: a typical case study might be based on an interview with a practitioner, observation of a meeting or event or the analysis of documents and material artefacts. It will provide relevant background and context, draw on secondary literature as appropriate, and offer critical reflection, analysis and discussion. Successful case studies may be posted to our website.
Feedback We begin to explore topics for case studies in class, and follow up with one-to-one meetings with the course tutor. We use one workshop to present proposals and work-in-progress to the group and generate more formative feedback that way. As your work develops, there are opportunities to refine your case study, making connections with others and the theories and concepts behind them in further meetings with your tutor.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. acquire and explore a conception of politics and policy making as a domain of practice or 'work'.
  2. have a detailed understanding of different instances and dimensions of political work.
  3. develop appropriate ways of interpreting and accounting for it through the critical appreciation of case studies.
  4. acquire and use essential skills of data collection and analysis in researching and writing case studies of their own.
  5. reflect critically on their own and others' work, in delivering presentations.
Reading List
Political Work: Indicative Reading

Politics, policy and practice

Adler, E and Pouliot, V (2011) 'International practices', International Theory 3 (1) 1¿36
Colebatch, H K (2006) 'What work makes policy?', Policy Sciences 39 (4) 309-321
Feldman, M S and Orlikowski, W J (2011) 'Theorizing practice and practicing theory', Organization Science 22 (5) 1240¿1253
Freeman, R, Griggs, S and Boaz, A (2011) 'The practice of policy making', Evidence and Policy 7 (2) 127-136
Gledhill, J (2000) Power and its Disguises. Anthropological perspectives on politics, London: Pluto; ch 6 'From macro-structure to micro-process: anthropological analysis of political practice'
Kubik, J (2009) 'Ethnography of politics: foundations, applications, prospects', in Schatz, E (ed) Political Ethnography. What immersion contributes to the study of power, Chicago: Chicago UP
Miettinen, R, Samra-Fredericks, D and Yanow, D (2009) 'Re-turn to practice: an introductory essay', Organization Studies 30 (12) 1309¿1327
Reckwitz, A (2002) 'Toward a theory of social practices. A development in culturalist theorizing', European Journal of Social Theory 5 243¿263
Wagenaar, H and Cook, S D N (2003) 'Understanding policy practices: action, dialectic and deliberation in policy analysis', in Hajer, M A and Wagenaar, H (eds) Deliberative Policy Analysis. Understanding governance in the network society, Cambridge: Cambridge UP

activism and protest

Barry, A (1999) 'Demonstrations: sites and sights of direct action', Economy and Society 28 (1) 75-94
Couldry, N (2001) 'The Umbrella Man: crossing a landscape of speech and silence', European Journal of Cultural Studies 4 (2) 131¿152
Hendriks, F and Tops, P (2005) 'Everyday fixers as local heroes: a case study of vital interaction in urban governance', Local Government Studies 31 (4) 475-490


Barnett, M N (1997) 'The UN Security Council, Indifference, and Genocide in Rwanda', Cultural Anthropology 12 (4) 551-578
Bevir, M and Rhodes, R A W (2006) Governance Stories, London: Routledge, includes ch 7 'Everyday life in a ministry'
Wagenaar, H (2004) ''Knowing' the rules: administrative work as practice', Public Administration Review 64 (6) 643¿656


Fenno, R F (1977) 'U.S. House Members in their constituencies: an exploration', American Political Science Review 71 (3) 883-917
Neumann, I B (2005) 'To be a diplomat', International Studies Perspectives 6 72¿93
Wodak, R (2009) The Discourse of Politics in Action: politics as usual, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan; ch 4: 'One day in the life of an MEP'


Kissinger, H (1971) 'My talks with Chou En-lai,' 14 July; National Security Archive 'Kissinger's Secret Trip to China': document 40
Escobar, O (2015): 'Scripting deliberative policy-making: dramaturgic policy, analysis and engagement know-how', Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice 17 (3) 269-285
Wedeen, L (2007) 'The politics of deliberation: qa¯t chews as public spheres in Yemen', Public Culture 19 (1) 59-84

researching political work

Dargie, C (1998) 'Observation in political research: a qualitative approach', Politics 18 (1) 65-71
Moug, P (2007) 'Non-participative observation in political research: the 'poor' relation?', Politics 27 (2) 108¿114
Puwar, N (1997) 'Reflections on Interviewing Women MPs', Sociological Research Online 2 (1) «»
Richards, D (1996) 'Elite interviewing: approaches and pitfalls', Politics 16 (3) 199-204

speech and talk

Gronn, P C (1983) 'Talk as the work. The accomplishment of school administration', Administrative Science Quarterly 28 1-21
Llewellyn, N (2005) 'Audience participation in political discourse: a study of public meetings', Sociology 39 (4) 697-716
Stark, D and Paravel, V (2008) 'PowerPoint in public: digital technologies and the new morphology of demonstration', Theory, Culture & Society, 25 (5) 30¿55


Cambrosio, A, Limoges, C and Pronovost, D (1990) 'Representing biotechnology: an ethnography of Quebec science policy', Social Studies of Science 20 (2) 195-227
Hull, M S (2003) 'The file: agency, authority, and autography in an Islamabad bureaucracy', Language & Communication 23 287¿314
Paley, J (2001) 'Making democracy count: opinion polls and market surveys in the Chilean political transition', Cultural Anthropology 16 (2) 135-164

bodies and things

Carter, P (2011) 'Governing welfare reform symbolically: evidence based or iconic policy?', Critical Policy Studies 5 (3) 247-263
Coles, K A (2004) 'Election day: the construction of democracy through technique', Cultural Anthropology 19 (4) 551¿580
Mahler, M (2006) 'Politics as a vocation: notes toward a sensualist understanding of political engagement', Qualitative Sociology 29 281-300


Laurier, E and Philo, C (2007) ''A parcel of muddling muckworms': revisiting Habermas and the English coffee-houses', Social and Cultural Geography, 8 (2) 259-281
Puwar, N (2010) 'The archi-texture of Parliament: flaneur as method in Westminster', Journal of Legislative Studies 16 (3) 298-312
Salter, M B (2007) 'Governmentalities of an airport: heterotopia and confession', International Political Sociology 1 49¿66
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Richard Freeman
Tel: (0131 6)50 4680
Course secretaryMr Ethan Alexander
Tel: (0131) 6 509 975
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