The State, Institutions and Policy: a Political Sociology Approach SOCIO4118

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2 (Alternate Years)
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

In much social science literature the question of how policy is made is often divorced from the context in which it takes place, and therefore from a wider concern with the nature of the state and the ideological underpinnings of policy-making'. This course aims to place a sociological understanding of policy within its appropriate ideological context. As such the course examines the role of the state, with a particular focus on its relationship to capital. This approach inevitably requires engagement with both theories of power and with the practical wielding of power. Using power relations as the lens, we will also then look critically at what state institutions have been constructed and to what ends. This will involve an examination of institutions and policies. This will be done by using key case studies of broad policy areas, that of the welfare state, migration, climate change and devolution.


By applying theoretical approaches to practical case studies the course will cross the boundary that often exists between theorising the policy process and real world examples. What is more, by ensuring that both are placed within broader ideological frameworks the course will aim to provide students with a more thorough understanding of the socio-political world around them.



Requirements of Entry

In order to take this course you need to have met the requirements for entry into our Honours Programme. This means achieving a grade of 'D' or better in Sociology 1A and 1B and a 'C' or better in Sociology 2A and 2B. You also have to comply with the College of Social Science regulations for progression to Honours.

Excluded Courses





The summative assessment will consist of one 2,250 word essay and one 2,250 word policy brief (each worth 50% of the overall mark).  The latter will look at a policy of the student's choosing.

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? No

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

The overall aim of this course is to apply political sociology to an understanding of policy and policy-making in modern Britain. This involves examination of the state and the institutions that it has established to create policy, but also crucially involves looking behind those institutions to see where else power is being both wielded and experienced. The course will then apply these theoretical lessons and discussions to specific areas of policy to provide students with practical knowledge of both the theory and the practice of the policy process. Overall we will aim to

■ Help students critically engage with theories of the policy process

■ Relate theories of the policy process to the role of the state and questions of power

■ Apply theoretical understandings of power, the state and policy to specific policy areas

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of critical theories of the state;

■ Critically engage with debates about what power is and how we can determine where it lies;

■ Demonstrate knowledge of debates about institutions and institutionalism;

■ Critically assess theories of the policy process, including debates about change and continuity;

■ Apply theoretical learning to specific examples of policy;

■ Effectively present acquired knowledge in both oral and written form.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.