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Unit information: Theories of International Relations in 2020/21

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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. Filippo Dionigi
Open unit status Not open




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


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
  • Write articulate, concise and persuasive essays
  • Engage in thoughtful and constructive discussions by contributing actively and continuously to the seminar activities
  • Constructively engage in critical thinking in the final essay and in discussion with peers.
  • Effectively read and understand the course literature.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

10% participartion 90% 4000 word essay

Reading and References

  • International relations theories: discipline and diversity, edited by Timothy Dunne; Milja Kurki; Steve Smith, 2016.
  • The Oxford handbook of international relations, Edited by by Christian Reus-Smit; Duncan Snidal, 2008
  • Theories of international relations, by Scott Burchill, 2005
  • International relations theory: a critical introduction, by Cynthia Weber, 2005