Concepts and Theories for Understanding World Politics

Course Description: 

The course starts off with an in-depth-look at current orthodoxy in International Relations (IR) and foreign policy theorising before charting divergent lines of flight away from orthodoxy to heterodoxy. The scene setter of the course is thus an engagement with the dominant strands of Western thinking, inside academia, the NGO and think tank sectors and government, about politics beyond the state: constructivism and liberalism. After its fall from grace after the end of the Cold War, realism has in recent years experienced a recovery, establishing itself as one of the harshest, or most scandalous, critics of the liberal/constructivist hegemony and the dominant practices of contemporary world politics. The course will cover structural, and neoclassical strands of realist theorising. Other important critiques of the liberal/constructivist orthodoxy are offered by feminist and historical materialist approaches, which, in their different ways, offer bottom-up approaches to world politics and foreign policy, foregrounding the importance of social power inequalities and class or gender hierarchies. In a second, shorter part, the seminar offers case-focused examples of critical readings of world politics. It starts off with Foucauldian IR, which zeros in on the intertwinement of modalities of power beyond sovereignty, the constitution of domains of knowledge and the regulation of subjectivity. It ends with critically engaging with the workings of borders and human rights in world politics.


-          The aim of the course is to introduce students to both mainstream and alternative theoretical approaches to the study of world politics and foreign policy;

-          enable them to see research on world politics and foreign policy as historically and culturally contingent practice;

-          equip them with the cognitive skills required to critically analyse world politics and foreign policy;

-          enable them to recognise that empirical research is invested with interests, values and norms.

Learning Outcomes: 
  •   By the end of the course students will be able to compare, contrast and evaluate different interpretations and explanations of world politics and foreign policy;
  •   detect the ontological assumptions that are the launch pad for empirical investigations;
  •   recognise the interpretative possibilities in any given world political phenomena;
  •   critically reflect upon and evaluate their own standpoints on world politics/foreign policy and those of others;
  •   distinguish between a well-reasoned argument about world politics/foreign policy and an incoherent one.

Each student will be assessed through a combination of seminar contributions, oral presentations, written work and an exam.

 The final grade is made up of the following components:

  1. Seminar attendance (mandatory) and participation (20%).
  2. Seminar presentation of assigned texts (20%). Students are expected to give a 20 – 30 minute presentations on one of the seminar readings. Presentation guidelines are posted on the e-learning site.
  3. Within 2 weeks of the oral presentation, students have to submit a written position paper of about 2000 words on their readings (30%).
  4. Exam (30%)
  5. Please note that these requirements may be modified depending on how many students enrol in the course.