Module Provider: School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Dr Alice Baderin

Email: a.baderin@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

Advanced course in political theory, focusing on questions about the ethics and politics of risk. The course brings together ethical theory with the study of applied cases.


Many of the decisions we make are reached under conditions of uncertainty and we continually expose others to risk through our everyday actions, such as driving a car. Societies also face pressing questions about how to respond to larger scale risks arising from climate change and the development of new technologies. However, our standard ethical thinking is often insensitive to the presence of risk. How can ethics deal with the phenomenon of risk? And how does foregrounding the issue of risk shape our ethical thinking? This module addresses a range of problems in the ethics of risk. For example, when is it acceptable to impose risk on others? Do we have rights against being exposed to risk? How should a democratic society make decisions about the regulation of risk?

The primary aim of the module is to introduce students to recent developments in the ethics of risk within legal, moral and political theory. The second objective is to enable students to relate these theoretical debates to applied questions about how we should respond politically to risk. Case studies will include climate change and the development of artificial intelligence. We will also draw on psychological evidence about risk-perception, and consider what these empirical insights imply for our normative thinking about risk.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of this module, a student should be able to:

  1. demonstrate an understanding of what ‘risk’ is, and explain the key issues around the conceptualization of risk

  2. describe the challenges that the phenomenon of risk poses to standard ethical frameworks, including utilitarianism and rights-based theories

  3. critically assess recent work in legal, moral and political theory that seeks to address these challenges
  4. < br />
  5. apply their theoretical knowledge to real world cases, including climate change and the development of risky technologies

Additional outcomes:

The module will develop students’ broader understanding of key ethical concepts and approaches, for example rights and contractualism, by exploring these ideas through the lens of risk.

Students will also advance their skills of critical analysis and their ability to articulate their ideas verbally and in writing.

Outline content:

Topics to be addressed will include:

  • The concept of risk

  • Risk and rights

  • Public involvement in decision-making about risk regulation

  • Risk and paternalism

  • The precautionary principle

Lectures and seminars will integrate the exploration of theoretical arguments with investigation of real-world cases.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Ten hour long lectures introducing and framing a topic, plus ten hour and a half long seminars. Seminars will be structured around a combination of student presentations, group exercises and class discussion.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 15
Guided independent study:      
    Wider reading (independent) 20
    Wider reading (directed) 65
    Preparation for presentations 10
    Preparation for seminars 30
    Essay preparation 40
    Reflection 10
Total hours by term 0 200 0
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students will write two essays. One essay of 3,000 words will focus on a theoretical problem in the ethics of risk. The second essay of 2,000 words will use students’ theoretical knowledge to address an applied political problem.

Formative assessment methods:

Each student will give at least one seminar presentation. Students will be expected to make an active contribution to seminar exercises and discussion.

Penalties for late submission:

The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:

40% overall

Reassessment arrangements:

If a student fails to pass the year at the first attempt there is an opportunity to be re-assessed on one further occasion at the next opportunity in those modules achieving a mark of less than 40%. Students who are eligible for re-assessment have the right to re-assessment in all elements even if they have previously passed one of those elements. It is expected, however, that the majority of students would probably elect not to repeat an element in which they had already passed, in which case the confirmed marks would be carried forward. Examination: Re-examination takes place in August/September of the same year. Coursework: Failed or missing coursework should be re-submitted within the stipulated resubmission period, emailed directly to politics@reading.ac.uk, AND submitted on Blackboard.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

Last updated: 4 April 2020


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