International Relations Theory - PO932

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 20 (10) DR T Casier







This module introduces a range of theoretical approaches to the study of international relations. It does so by confronting different views, in close connection to current or historical events or developments.
The course starts by raising the problem of perception in International Relations and by highlighting some of the core dividing lines underlying theoretical debates (explaining/understanding, positivism/post-positivism, rationalism/constructivism, etc.). It critically looks into the Levels of Analysis approach and brings up the Agency-Structure problem. After having set the parameters of the debate, different theories are studied in depth: Classical Realism, Structural Realism, Liberalism, Neo-Liberal Institutionalism, the neo-neo debate, Constructivism, the English School, normative theory, Marxism and Critical Theory. To conclude, the course treats two major, related debates about the state of the world: one on the post-Cold War (dis)order, the other on globalization. This allows to demonstrate how theories interrelate and how they can be applied to current events.

Indicative overview:
1. How we perceive, explain and understand the world
2. One way of telling the story: major theories and dividing lines
3. Classical realism, the state and power
4. Structural Realism: living in an anarchical world
5. Liberalism & the neo-neo debate
6. Why and how do actors cooperate?
7. Constructivism
8. Norms, values and international society
9. 'Radical' theories: From Marxism to critical theory
10. Making sense of the world we live in I: the post-Cold War (dis)order
11. Making sense of the world we live in II: globalisation and governance
12. The 'dividing discipline'? How to bridge theories


This module appears in:


Autumn Term

Method of assessment

1. Students write one essay of approximately 3000 words in which they critically apply a theory to an international event or development of their choice and evaluate the theory critically from the perspective of a second theory of their choice. The essay provides students with an opportunity to study theories in depth and to confront/integrate and apply them to a case of their choice. Essay topics are discussed during the seminars and students receive guidelines on how to structure their research. Students are evaluated on their understanding of the theories and concepts of the course, the capacity to apply them, the analytical level and originality. (50% of the final mark)
2. Written exam. (50% of the final mark)

Indicative reading

Students will be presented with reading lists at the start of the module. Key texts will be in the shortloan collection.

Books recommended are:
Dunne T., Kurki M., Smith S. (2007), International Relations. Discipline and Diversity. Oxford University Press.
Carlsnaes W., Risse T., Simmons B. (eds.) (2006), Handbook of International Relations. London, Sage.
Brown C. (2004) , Understanding International Relations. Palgrave McMillan.
Hollis, M. & Smith, S. (1990) Explaining and understanding international relations. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Booth K., Smith S. (eds.) (1995), International Relations Theory Today. Cambridge, Polity Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes
On successful completion of the module, students will
- be able to reflect critically on the discipline and its history
- be able to explain and understand key debates and core concepts in IR
- be able to critically analyse IR theories and their normative dimensions
- have a good understanding of connections between IR theory, political theory and philosophy
- be able to use IR theories and concepts to analyse current international issues
- be able to identify dividing lines between different theories and situate theories in the broader framework of IRT

These specific learning outcomes contribute to achieving the learning outcomes of our post-graduate programmes by demonstrating knowledge of the following:
• demonstrate specialised knowledge of, and critical insight into, the key historical and theoretical issues in their programme area, together with familiarity with appropriate bibliographical sources
• apply theoretical and conceptual frameworks to the analysis of politics and international relations
• use a variety of research methods and evaluate critically their application in the scholarly literature
• conduct research in politics and international relations demonstrating awareness of epistemological, methodological and ethical principles

The intended generic learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this module
- will be able to work with theoretical knowledge at the forefront of their discipline
- will be aware of the ethical dimensions of the scholarly work done in their discipline in general as well as of their own work in particular
- will have a comprehensive understanding of methods and methodologies in their discipline
- will be able to undertake analysis of complex, incomplete or contradictory areas of knowledge
- will have a level of conceptual understanding that will allow them to critically evaluate research, advanced scholarship and methodologies and argue alternative approaches
- will be reflective and self-critical in their research work
- will be able to engage in academic and professional communication orally and in writing
- will have independent learning ability required for continuing professional study

By helping students to progress towards these generic learning outcomes, the module contributes to achieving the general aims of our postgraduate programmes, which aim to
• provide students with an advanced training in their relevant programmes of study
• develop the students' transferable skills emphasizing research skills, analytical and conceptual skills, independent work and self-organisation
• develop reasoned arguments, synthesise relevant information and exercise critical judgement
• work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organization and time-management

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