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POLS521 Politics and Society

The task and promise of the sociological imagination, according to C Wright Mills, is to understand the relationship between history, social structure and biography. It is also the task and promise of this course. Ultimately, the central objective of this course is to enhance and clarify our understanding of the manner in which our lives are shaped by the changing social and political world that we inhabit.
New Zealand society is characterized by a highly unequal distribution of power and resources. This raises a number of important questions:

  • How is New Zealand society structured?
  • To what extent and how does this social structure generate inequalities of ethnicity, gender and class?
  • Why do these inequalities exist?
  • What form do these inequalities assume in society?
  • What are some of the major ways in which they have changed historically?
  • How do they impact upon politics and policy-making?
  • What can and should be done about them? Can society be changed?
  • Where do we fit in? How have our own lives been shaped by class, gender and ethnicity?

These questions are important for at least five reasons.

First, class, gender and ethnicity are intrinsically interesting and significant because our biographies are shaped, whether we recognize it or not, in a myriad of ways by our class, gender and ethnicity. 

Second, if the entire society is pervaded by inequality, then in order to understand society you need to understand the causes, manifestations and wider implications of inequality.

Third, the inequalities associated with class, gender and ethnicity give rise to social and political conflict, including intense policy debates, and generate various forms of collective organisation and mobilisation. Prominent examples include business associations and trade unions, social movements, and political parties. We can better understand politics and policy-making if we understand some of the most significant forces within society that impact upon the political sphere.

Fourth, governmental institutions are enmeshed with, and sustained by, the underlying social and economic structure of New Zealand’s capitalist society. In order to understand what governments do and why you need to understand the structure of this society.

Fifth, class, gender and ethnicity are central to the processes of historical change that we need to understand in order to make sense of the past, present and future of New Zealand’s social and political development.

Teaching Staff

Associate Professor Brian Roper:


Internal Assessment 40%
Exam 60%

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The politics of class, gender, and ethnic inequality in New Zealand, with some comparative reference to the US and Europe.

Paper title Politics and Society
Paper code POLS521
Subject Politics
EFTS 0.2500
Points 30 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2020
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,713.25
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,512.50

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POLS 404
Limited to
Teaching staff
Associate Professor Brian Roper
Paper Structure


  • Week 1: Introductions and Course Administration
  • Week 1: The Sociological Imagination
  • Week 2: The Neoliberal Justification of Social Inequality

Section One: Ethnicity

  • Week 2: Ethnic Inequality and Racist Politics
  • Week 3: White Settler Colonialism
  • Week 3: The Political Economy of Ethnic Inequality

Section Two: Gender

  • Week 4: Is the Family Anti-Social? Gender Inequality in the Family-Household
  • Week 4: Beyond the Barriers? Gender Inequality in Paid Employment
  • Week 5: Explaining Gender Inequality: Radical Feminism and Socialist Feminism
  • Week 6: The Changing Social Construction and Cultural Practices of Masculinity
  • Week 7: The Changing Social Construction and Cultural Practices of Femininity
  • Week 7: Gender Politics: The Anti-Feminist Backlash and Rise of Raunch Culture
  • Week 8: Gender Politics: Welfare and Paid Parental Leave
  • Week 8: Postmodernist Feminism and Contemporary Feminist Theory

Section Three: Class

  • Week 9: The Unequal Distribution of Income, Wealth and Life Chances
  • Week 9: What is Class? Marx vs. Weber
  • Week 10: What is Class? Recent Theories
  • Week 11: The Changing Working Class
  • Week 11: A New Middle Class?
  • Week 12: Class Politics: Labour, National and the Minor Parties
  • Week 12: The Upper Propertied or Capitalist Class
  • Week 13: Class Politics: Taxation and Social Spending


  • Week 13: What Can Be Done to Reduce Inequality?
No required coursebook or course reader.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Communication, Critical thinking, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the methods in the study of politics, specifically those employed in investigating political problems and phenomena relating to New Zealand society.
  • Analyse political ideas and assumptions to assess the connections between ideas.
  • Apply abstractions (general ideas and methods) to new and unfamiliar aspects of New Zealand politics and society.
  • Articulate ideas, arguments and experiences to others both as a writer and speaker, and carry out self-directed and independent research.

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Not offered in 2020

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system