Order out of Chaos: Radical Democracy in Theory

Module titleOrder out of Chaos: Radical Democracy in Theory
Module codePOC2061
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Joanie Willett (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

With its partner Radical Democracy in Practice this is a truly innovative module, representing a unique opportunity to apply exciting new developments in political theory to empirical research problems. This module is a theoretical exploration of Complexity Theory, raising questions about how far the body politic extends, and where the limits to political agency can be found.  For example, can non-humans also be political actors?  And if they can, what does this mean for political ideas and research?  Might this mean that all politics is really a politics of the environment? To do this, we address how power operates within the social political and ecological system, explore ontological questions such as how we know what we know, raise questions about time, and consider if this improves our understanding of the world around us.

No prior knowledge, skills or experience are required to take this module and it is suitable for specialist and non-specialist students.

Please note however, that in providing the theoretical context for POC2062, it is a pre-requisite for the work placement module Order Out of Chaos: Radical Democracy in Practice. Please note that you can take this module without completing the follow up module (Order Out of Chaos: Radical Democracy in Practice) if you want. In addressing questions about the nature of the world around us, it is also complementary to Research Inquiry in Practice and Doing Political Research. Additionally previous students have found that it provides a deeper look into methodological tools introduced in many other modules, particularly in critical international relations.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module you will explore radical contemporary political theories which consider the relationship between humans and their environments, and the impact that this has on the body politic, expanding the nature of political identity and the demos. You will critically engage with traditional assumptions about time, raising questions which go to the heart of the modern, scientific world view, and introduces and explores concepts of time, assemblages, affect and perception.

The module aims to build upon analysis and skills from Classical Political Ideas, A History of Political Thought: From Christianity to early Modernity, Modern Political Thought: Rights the Nation and the State; and Modern Political Thought: In Critique of Rights. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an appreciation of readings from the major texts of this module;
  • 2. Show an understanding of key radical theory texts;
  • 3. apply theory to aspects of the contemporary world;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Apply theoretical ideas and concepts to actual events and outcomes;
  • 5. Provide interpretations to political questions in the light of appropriate evidence;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Use logic and reasoning to evaluate arguments;
  • 7. Formulate reasoned arguments about theory with clarity and precision, communicated in written and oral form;
  • 8. Formulate your own conclusions based on differing forms of evidence; and
  • 9. Demonstrate the capacity for independent study.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  1. Introduction: Time, Posthumanism, and Radical Democracy.
  2. Nietzche: Morality, truth, guilt and debt
  3. Foucault: Biopower and resistance
  4. Deleuze and Guattari: the Rhizome
  5. Ahmed and he politics of Affect
  6. Phenomenologies of time: Bergson
  7. Connolly and Neuropolitics: Affect and perception
  8. Kaufman: emergence and complexity
  9. DeLanda and Latour: From biology to socio-politics
  10. Jane Bennett and Vibrant Matter: Can a radical democracy include the environment.
  11. Connolly: Radical democracy and a complex theory of the environment.
  12. Tutorials and essay support

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity 2211 x weekly 2 hour Seminars
Guided Independent Study30A variety of independent study activities directed by your module leader to include: seminar preparation;
Guided Independent Study30reading set texts;
Guided Independent Study15reading secondary material;
Guided Independent Study53additional preparation for assignments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Draft of assessed Essay3,500 words1-9Verbal and written comments on review

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1003,500 words1-9Verbal and written comments on review


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3,500 words)1-9August/September reassessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Bennett, J. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, (Duke University Press: 2010).

Bergson, H. Creative Evolution, (United States: Random House, 1944).

Bergson, H. Matter and Memory (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004, [1908]).

Connolly, W. A World of Becoming, (Duke University Press: 2010).

Coole, D., Frost, S., (Eds) 2010. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics. (Duke University Press: Durham).

Deleuze, G. Guattari, F. 2004, A Thousand Plateaus, Continuum, London

Deleuze, G.  2006. Bergsonism. (Zone Books: New York).

Friedrich Nietzsche, 2006, On the Genealogy of Morality, (Cambridge University Press)

Prigogine, I. Stengers, I. Order Out of Chaos, Mans New Dialogue With Nature, (Flamingo, Harper Collins, London: 1985).

Smith, J. Jenks, C. Qualitative Complexity: Ecology, Cognitive Processes and the Re-Emergence of

Structures in Post Humanist Social Theory (Routledge, Oxon: 2006).

Sara Ahmed, 2004, The Cultural Politics of Emotion Edinburgh University Press

DeLanda, M, 2011A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity Continuum

Stuart Kaufman, 1996. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organisation and Complexity Oxford University Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

 ELE – http://vle.exeter.ac.uk/

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Radical Democracy, Complexity Theory, Political Identity, Environment, Political Theory, Sustainability.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date