International Relations Theory

Overview and aims

Since its inception as a discipline, international relations has sought to shed light on the problems and tensions that emerge in global politics; the explanations, understandings, and/or solutions we entertain about them is dependent on our theoretical choices. The purpose of this module is to introduce you to the range of approaches to international relations theory. Within international relations there are many varied interpretations and applications of key concepts (e.g. power, the state, agency, structure, and world order) as well as contested views about the practical purpose underpinning theories of world politics.

This module gives you the opportunity to explore the key tenets of the major theories of international relations, and encourages you to critically analyse your assumptions and ideological baggage. In so doing, it provides you with the intellectual tools to understand and explain the workings of the international system, as well as helping you to critically evaluate international relations in theory and practice. These tools also become especially important in regards to employability and future modules in the course, as you will develop a strong understanding and solid analytical capabilities to tackle real-life complex political situations.

The module places the theoretical developments of international relations into context and enables you to understand the origins of the debates and see the theory into practice, using both historical and contemporary examples and cases. This will challenge and engage both those new to international relations theory, and those with a background knowledge of the discipline, whether from the United Kingdom or elsewhere. It will also encourage you to think about how you see the world, and in so doing the module will provide a framework and toolkit which will enable you to engage with the increasingly complex realm of international relations. In conjunction with the other modules in the programme, it will prepare you for both your dissertation project, and the development of key, transferable skills that will be desirable for future research and the graduate job market.

Module content

This module explores the key thinkers and debates within international relations theory, their significance within the discipline and their consequences in practice.

Module topics

  • Realisms (Power and Sovereignty)
  • Liberalisms (Cooperation and Interdependence)
  • English School and Constructivism
  • Marxisms and Critical Theory (Development, Injustice and Emancipation from State-centricism)
  • Missing voices in International Relations: Post-Colonialism and Feminism
  • Post-Structuralism and the future of International Relations

Learning outcomes

After studying this module you should be able to:

  • critically assess and use international relations theories
  • critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different types of sources used in the study of International Relations
  • reflect critically upon the role of theory in the study and practice of International Relations
  • critique a range of different theoretical approaches used in the study of International Relations

This module will help you gain the skills and qualities to:

  • be able to demonstrate critical thinking when faced with a range of theories, arguments, and facts
  • employ advanced logical thinking and rational argumentation strategies in light of theories and evidence
  • self-organise as well as working individually and in group activities to produce MA level quality work

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