Navigating Stormy Seas: Techniques for Teaching Contentious Topics in Political Science Programmes


In increasingly polarized political contexts, exacerbated by concerns over student safety, mental health, and media hysteria over “safe spaces” and “cancel culture”, teaching contentious political science topics has become more challenging than ever before. At the same time, students do not enter as blank slates on these topics and are likely to bring their own ideas – sometimes vociferously – into the classroom. Political science topics can be inherently binary, they can carry a high risk of pre-existing biases among participants, and they can be tense and uncomfortable to discuss. Under such circumstances, how can course tutors ensure that all perspectives on a given topic are adequately addressed while ensuring that discussions are held in a respectful and collegiate manner? In this paper, we offer reflective accounts of our own experiences of political science teaching in two particularly contentious areas in the UK higher education context – nuclear weapons and Brexit – where all of these risks are high. The paper offers three techniques for overcoming tension and ensuring that the topics are covered in a balanced manner to foster good faith discussion and debate. We emphasize the use of counter-balancing case studies which challenge existing biases, the “weaponization” of expected pre-existing biases to provoke critique, and the use of humor to create a positive, open and free learning environment. We conclude that the use of these techniques can be helpful in teaching contentious topics – helping practitioners to navigate the “stormy seas” of today’s challenging political science teaching context.

Author Information
Sara Kaizuka, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
James Kaizuka, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Paper Information
Conference: ACE2023
Stream: Teaching Experiences

This paper is part of the ACE2023 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Kaizuka S., & Kaizuka J. (2024) Navigating Stormy Seas: Techniques for Teaching Contentious Topics in Political Science Programmes ISSN: 2186-5892 The Asian Conference on Education 2023: Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon