International Relations Theory - POLI9320

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


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.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 24
Private study hours: 176
Total study hours: 200


International Relations MA

Method of assessment

Essay, 3000 words (50%)
Exam, 2 hours (50%)

Reassessment methods: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Reading list (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

T. Dunne, Kurki M., Smith S., International Relations: Discipline and Diversity, 2013 (3rd edition) or 2016 (4th edition). Oxford: 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. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. reflect critically on the discipline and its history

2. explain and understand key debates and core concepts in IR

3. critically analyse IR theories and their normative dimensions

4. have a good understanding of connections between IR theory, political theory and philosophy

5. use IR theories and concepts to analyse current international issues

6. identify dividing lines between different theories and situate theories in the broader framework of IRT

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. work with theoretical knowledge at the forefront of their discipline

2. 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

3. have a comprehensive understanding of methods and methodologies in their discipline

4. undertake analysis of complex, incomplete or contradictory areas of knowledge

5. have a level of conceptual understanding that will allow them to critically evaluate research, advanced scholarship and methodologies and argue alternative approaches

6. be reflective and self-critical in their research work

7. engage in academic and professional communication orally and in writing

8. have independent learning ability required for continuing professional study


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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