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This subject considers the specific role played by political leaders in responding to the world’s most difficult social and political challenges. The subject is divided into three parts. Each draws from contrasting ideals of political leadership in public policy, sociology, law, political theory/philosophy and history.
The first part asks: who can be political leaders? Do they need to occupy offices such as that of prime minister or president or can they also be leaders of grassroots social movements or senior members of organised non-state collectives, such as Nelson Mandela before the African National Congress became the official government of South Africa? Further, who can access positions of leadership? What are the specific constraints faced by poor people, racialised minorities, women and other groups who, for various reasons, are under-represented in politics and lack political power?
Building on the first part, the second part focuses specifically on various characteristics of political leadership. In doing so, it considers what characteristics of political leadership (if any) can be identified in the abstract and what characteristics require close examination of the social and historical context in which leadership is being exercised. Among other things, and with the use of both historical and contemporary case-studies, we study the elusive traits of strength, courage, wisdom, judgment and responsiveness to context. We consider the relationship between the political leader and the people: is the role of a political leader simply to be a mouthpiece for the people or is her role to shape, influence and guide the people? If the latter, does a tension arise between political leadership and democracy? How can such tension be resolved?
The third part situates political leadership in the context of the modern administrative state. In doing so, it considers what mechanisms of institutional change are available to political leaders in the context of the modern state, with a particular focus on regulation. It also identifies some constraints that leaders must overcome in order to self-consciously and deliberately bring about institutional change. These constraints include institutional path-dependence, the tendency for institutional means to frustrate institutional ends, and institutional features such as short-term election cycles which prevent (or distract) political leaders from holding firm to long-term goals including those that benefit (and are crucial for the survival of) future generations.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject should have:
- Developed an awareness of some of the constraints that exist in relation to political leadership, political power, and access
- Acquired the ability to identify and critically compare contrasting ideals of political leadership
- Critically evaluated historical and contemporary instances and characteristics of political leadership with a particular focus on the context in which leadership is being exercised
- Critically evaluated the relationship between the political leader and the people
- Situated and analysed the role of political leadership in the context of the modern administrative state
A student who has successfully completed this subject should have developed:
- The ability to derive, interpret and analyse information from a range of sources
- The capacity to critically analyse and evaluate competing perspectives
- The ability to write an essay which relies on sound research and logical argumentation
- The effective use of written and verbal communication
Last updated: 3 December 2022