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Department of Political Science

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POLS0001 (ESPS2104) International Relations Theories

Course Code: POLS0001; ESPS2104 for ESPS students only

Course Tutor: Dr Melanie Garson (Term 1) (Department of Political Science)

Term 2: Dr Melanie Garson and TBC

Length: One term. Students choose to study in either Term 1 or Term 2. ESPS2104 (Autumn Term)

Teaching: 20 hours lectures/seminars

Assessment: Two 2,000 word essays (40/60%)

Credits: 15 credits, 4 (US), 7.5 (ECTS) 

Module Level: L5 (Intermediate)

Power Politics; International Cooperation; Social Forces; Norms
Gender & World Politics; Strategic Deterrence; Wars & Violence

About this course

This course introduces students to the major theoretical traditions in International Relations (IR). It uses these different theoretical approaches to shed light on historical and current events in world politics. The course aims to link theory and the 'real world' by providing students with different lenses for understanding and explaining questions related to war(s), nuclear weapons, terrorism, globalization and environmental challenges.

We begin the course by discussing some key theoretical approaches through which IR scholars analyse world politics, including realism, liberalism, Marxism, constructivism and feminism. These theoretical approaches differ across several dimensions. Some focus on the role of states, while others place more emphasis on non-state actors. Some look at structural features of international relations to understand events and processes, while others prefer to look at the behaviour of states to do so. Some argue that states’ actions in the international system are driven by self-interest, while others maintain that norms and ideas shape behaviour.

In discussing the different theoretical approaches, we will reflect on both their strengths and limitations. We will do so by asking how they can help us analyse important empirical issues in world politics. The second half of the course will, therefore, focus on the following questions: Why do states go to war with one another? Why do some states maintain peace within their borders, while others have experienced long-lasting and bloody civil wars? What are the causes and consequences of nuclear proliferation? What is globalization, and what are its effects? How do state and non-state actors address global environmental challenges?

By the end of the course, you should be familiar with the major theoretical approaches in the field, be able to demonstrate how these theories influence our explanations, be aware of their strengths and limitations and have some background knowledge of substantive questions in world politics.