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Unit information: Theories of International Relations in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Theories of International Relations
Unit code POLIM3014
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Rob Yates
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will provide students with an overview of the major theoretical traditions for the analysis of world politics. It will focus on the basic concepts and questions, major scholarly traditions or perspectives, significant debates, and prominent authors in the study of international politics in order that students can develop an appreciation of the terrain of the discipline. The literature coverage will be extensive rather than intensive, indicating the breadth of debate in the field. The theoretical traditions to be covered comprise four from the mainstream camp of IR theory realism, neorealism, neoliberal institutionalism, and constructivism and four critical IR traditions Marxisms, feminisms, postmodernism, and green theory. Overall, the unit is designed better to prepare the student as a scholar and as a citizen to understand the workings of world politics through a greater awareness of the diversity of IR theories and their respective strengths and weaknesses. This unit is only available to students registered for MSc/Diploma degrees in the Department of Politics. Please note that the Department does not permit the auditing of any of its units.

This unit aims to:

  • Provide an overview of major competing theoretical traditions for the analysis of world politics
  • Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of these competing theoretical approaches
  • Evaluate the application of different theories to the analysis of world politics
  • Consider the political implications of the various theories of world politics

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion the student should be able to:

  • Explain the structure and content of diverse theoretical traditions for the analysis of world politics
  • Assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of these diverse theoretical traditions
  • Critically and comparatively evaluate the utility of these theoretical traditions for the investigation of world politics
  • Apply these theories to historical and contemporary case studies
  • Make articulate, concise, persuasive and well-paced oral presentations
  • Write articulate, concise and persuasive essays
  • Engage in thoughtful and constructive discussion
  • Constructively critique peer presentations and essay plans
  • Effectively use research and presentation tools, such as the Web of Science or PowerPoint

Teaching Information

The following teaching methods will be used:

  • Discussion and group work
  • Seminar presentation
  • Brief lectures
  • Essay writing
  • Independent research

Assessment Information

Formative assessment: an oral presentation supported by a handout Summative assessment: a 3,500 to 4,000 word essay

A full statement of the relationship between the programme outcomes and types/methods of assessment is contained in accompanying Programme Specifications and section B7 of the Major Change to Current Programme forms for the programmes of which this unit is a part. The assessment for each unit is designed to fit within and contribute to that approach in terms of intellectual development across each of the two teaching blocks, and in relation to knowledge and understanding, intellectual skills and attributes, and transferable skills.

Reading and References

  • Burchill, S et al. Theories of International Relations, second edition, Palgrave, 2001
  • Enloe, C. ‘Margins, silences and bottom rungs: How to overcome the underestimation of power in the study of international relations, in Steve Smith, Ken Booth, and Marysia Zalewski, eds, International Theory: Positivism and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1996
  • Keohane, R. International Institutions and State Power: Essays in International Relations Theory, Westview Press, 1989
  • Morgenthau, H. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, McGraw-Hill, 1985
  • Waltz, K. Theory of International Politics, Addison-Wesley, 1979
  • Wendt, A. ‘Anarchy is what states make of it: The social construction of power politics,’ IO, 46(2), 1992