MA International Political Economy - module descriptions

On this course you will study three core modules and you will choose two optional modules. As you approach the end of your degree you will complete a dissertation in International Political Economy.

Core modules: 

Approaches to Political Economy

What is capitalism? How does it work? And how should we study it? The module equips you with an advanced understanding of competing approaches to the study of political economy. The module compares the ideas and arguments of a range of classical and modern political economists; whilst considering the analytical purchase offered by contemporary approaches to the study of political economy.

By exposing you to a wide range of different tools, methods, and theories, this core module encourages you to think critically about the way in which we make sense of the global political economy, and the extent to which the conventional narrative of capitalist development has universal and contemporary relevance.

Understanding Politics

This core module introduces you to the dominant analytical and methodological traditions in politics (broadly understood as ‘positivism’ and ‘interpretivism’) and to the different ontological, epistemological, and methodological implications of each tradition for the study of politics. The module will require you to consider explicitly your approach to the study of politics, and understand both its strengths and weaknesses.

By studying this module, you will be able to articulate coherently your understanding of what the discipline of politics entails, and what you consider to be the most appropriate way of studying and researching politics. As such, this module is an essential precursor to you specific programme and to your dissertation.

Research and Dissertation Participation

This core module is designed to prepare the student for writing their MA dissertation. The module serves to introduce the student to the nature of the research process and encourage the student to focus on developing their research question and methodology and advance their research retrieval and analysis skills. The workshops of the module covers the key stages of the research process, from formulating questions and/or puzzles and thinking about their significance, to selecting texts orcase studies relevant to the topic, identifying and critically reviewing the existing literature, developing a theoretical and/or conceptual arguments, and collecting and analyzing materials to support these arguments. The module concludes by discussing the nature of the supervision process.

Through this module, you will acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding to carry out an extended piece of independent research; to develop a research proposal, strategy and timetable; and s to complete a dissertation under the guidance of an academic supervisor.

Optional modules:

Capitalism and Crisis

The 2008 financial crisis undermined nearly two decades of relatively stable economic growth across the capitalist world. The banking system came close to collapse, government deficits rapidly increased and the politics of austerity was unleashed across the advanced economies. We continue to experience the fall-out from the crash today.

This module examines the deeper origins of and the fall-out from the 2008 crisis. Drawing on the tradition of political economy, the module begins by unpacking the core concepts of the course: capitalism, crisis and the state. It then presents a brief historical overview of previous economic crises in the 1930s and 1970s in order to provide some necessary context and comparison points. Building on this, the module then surveys competing explanations of the origins of the 2008 crisis, examining the role which lax financial regulation, inequality, global imbalances and flawed economic ideas played in generating the crisis. The module then examines the fallout from the 2008 crisis, interrogating the extent to which the crisis was truly global in nature as well as examining the variety of political responses to the crash.

Development and the State

The major global challenge of our age is mass poverty. This is, above all, a political challenge that revolves around one single theme: transitions of capitalist development. These transitions are both extremely varied and difficult. Governments throughout the Developing World generate projects to promote capitalist development with varying degrees of success. Countries in the Developed World have their poverty problems but also tend to offer advice and models for other countries. How convincing are these models? And, how have countries devised their own plans? What works and what doesn't? And, how does the capitalist world economy affect a country's prospects?

This module will tackle these questions within a political economy framework. The focus rests on the ways in which state power and capitalist markets interact. The module focuses on the major political questions that face governments as they consider how to regulate, incentivise, and legitimate capitalist development transformations. Specific topics include: the political economy of industrialisation, gender and development, globalisation, the developmental state and human rights and development.

The Political Economy of Poverty and Inequality

This module offers a critical analysis of the nature and dynamics of poverty and inequality across the contemporary world. It uses examples from a range of different nation state and cultural contexts and considers the domestic and international dynamics at play in producing and reproducing poverty and inequality.

On this module, you will consider the political implications of different concepts of poverty and inequality and analyses the role and practices of international agencies, nation state governments, non-governmental organisations and collective action groups in seeking to reduce or eradicate poverty and address inequality.

Debating International Relations

This module offers an advanced level appreciation of the theory and practice of international relations. It provides you with a detailed understanding of the rival theoretical perspectives in the study of international relations and the issues that divide them, and encourages you to consider whether the seemingly irreconcilable differences these competing approaches can be overcome.

It starts with the classical and mainstream approaches before considering a range of historical, sociological, feminist and postcolonial alternatives. On this module, you will also examine a range of important issues in contemporary international politics, and in doing so consider the future of the study of international relations in the context of profoundly important patterns of global change.

Contemporary Global Security

The international system, states, and human lives are all shaped by the politics of contemporary global security. Since the end of the Cold War and its focus on superpower conflict, the subject of security has been challenged and broadened to incorporate issues such as the environment, health and economic (in)security. This module introduces you to two of the most central debates in post-Cold War Security studies. Firstly, what is security? Secondly, how do we know what security is (not)?

It introduces state-of-the-art theoretical debates in security studies to help you to critically analyse and make sense of contemporary global security politics. You will then explore key contemporary themes and issues on global conflict and security, while continuing to develop your conceptual and theoretical grounding. This module therefore examines a wide range of contemporary global security challenges from theoretically and historically informed perspectives.

Feminist and Decolonizing Approaches to International Relations

This module problematises core IR concepts and themes through an alternative ‘geopolitics of knowledge’ that comprises postcolonial, de-colonial, feminist and queer, Marxist and post-Marxist approaches to IR theory. The first part provides an understanding of key moments, processes, actors and practices in the emergence of the modern system of sovereign states. The second part interrogates key concepts and themes in IR, including violence, the body, capitalism, globalization, sovereignty and anarchy, hierarchy and hegemony/empire, and indigeneity. In place of the ‘West versus the Rest’, the module will examine the imperial dimension of these themes while revealing the mutually constitutive relations between metropoles/colonies in the formation of modernity both materially and ideationally.

Global Health and Global Politics

Health is a hugely political issue. Global, national and local politics play a big part in determining how long and how healthy our lives are, and how likely we are able to get the care and medicines we need when we do fall ill. Situated within contemporary approaches to international relations and international political economy, this module will introduce you to the global politics of health, addressing health as both a global issue, and also as a quintessentially political one.

We look at how health is currently 'globally governed', the different ways in which we interpret and intervene in health around the world (for example, through international development assistance or humanitarian aid efforts), and some of the key contemporary global health challenges. The module has a strong policy focus in which students are encouraged to critically engage with current policy approaches to tackling global health problems, and to develop their own ideas and policy recommendations.

International Political Sociology of Civil Wars

This module will introduce you to the politics of civil war—the dominant form of armed conflict today. The module will open with an overview of international conflict trends and the debate on the “new” versus “old” nature of present-day wars. The second part will focus on structural determinants of the cross-national and sub-national variation in civil wars. The remainder will explore the micro-level foundations of fighting, from the “greed” versus “grievance” and “opportunity” versus “motivation” debates to the complex interaction of rationalist and constructivist mechanisms of mobilization and recruitment.

Through this multi-level approach, you will acquire an advanced conceptual and theoretical understanding of civil war as an international political phenomenon. More specifically the module will help you to explain explain dominant trends in contemporary armed conflict; examine civil wars in the context of global and domestic politics; understand a range of political, social, and economic motivations and recruitment strategies behind individual mobilization to fight; and analyse key issues in ongoing civil wars and challenges in international responses to armed conflict.

Terrorism and Political Violence

This module offers a critical take on the study of security and violence, combining Sociological and International Relations approaches, and applying them to cases ranging from the macro-level (including guerrilla warfare/insurgency and most especially terrorism) through to micro-level sites usually considered
'private' or 'intimate ('domestic' violence, white supremacist bombing of historical black churches, etc). The module begins with a dive into the very concept of ‘terrorism,’ with questions such as: What is 'terrorism'? What is the difference between 'terrorism', 'war', and 'political violence'? And in what ways do these categories express historical and political relations of power?

We will proceed to investigate how social scientists have dealt with the problem of definition, with the causes of terrorism, and with the way in which social science research can be used to produce knowledge about “terrorism,” the logics and practices of counter-terrorism and “counter-radicalization,” and the relationship between terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Moving beyond a narrow understanding of terrorism as limited to sub-state violence, we will study the state as a perpetrator of political violence, both at home and abroad. Further topics include the role of gender, sexuality, and race in producing images of the terrorist, and the role of social media in terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Analysing the Policy Process

Policy makers around the world play an essential role in translating political ideas into practice. Whether formulating new ideas, implementing policy pledges or reviewing existing practices, the activities of the policy-process are vital to realising change. In this core module you will examine the different ‘stages’ of the policy processes and explore key analytical approaches to understanding governance and public policy-making.

The module encourages a comparative approach in order to provide insights into the theory and practice of governance and public policy. You will be encouraged to reflect on how you interpret and define political events. In doing so, you will explore the relationship between ‘governance’ and ‘government’, understand the drivers behind these processes and reflect on the changing nature of socio-political interactions and relationships. This module seeks to locate state of the art academic research and theory within the contours of ‘real-world’ policy dilemmas, helping you to combine theory and real world examples to understand the policy making world.

Policymaking in the Real World

Policymaking is an increasingly complex process, involving a range of ‘wicked problems’, an expanding cast of policy actors and a growing set of options for addressing them. Given the multiple risks and crises with which they must deal, how can policymakers design effective policy, learn from mistakes and deal with unexpected events? What tools can they employ to do so and how can we evaluate their success or failure? This module will provide you with a theoretically informed, but practice-focused approach to these questions. You will gain a range of practical skills through innovative group projects and visiting speakers from the policy world.

The module is divided into two main parts. In the first part, we consider some of the choices that policymakers make when designing policy. These include the costs and benefits of delegation, the 'added-value' of working with experts, the role of the private sector and the challenge of engaging with the public. These choices are set in the wider political context, and we consider issues such as electoral pressures and ideology. The second part of the module focuses on the challenges that policymakers are often required to address. We consider the difficulties associated with monitoring performance and learning from policy failure, the constraints of austerity, the spotlight of media scrutiny and the intense pressure that comes from external shocks and crises.

Democratic Governance in the Twenty-first Century: Problems, Innovations and Solutions

Political systems around the world strive to be democratic, but what is meant by democracy and how this can be achieved? This module considers the nature of the democratic crisis faced by countries around the world and maps the latest innovations designed to address this challenge. You will study tensions between new and old democratic arenas and consider the indicators of a thriving democracy.

The module is grounded in the tradition of engaged scholarship and uses real world examples and solution-focused analysis. The module consists of a weekly seminar, followed by a weekly workshop. The workshop will see students set a real world problem which applies the knowledge covered in seminars and independent reading. By studying the theory and practice of democratic innovation in this dynamic manner, you will in turn develop keen professional and research skills.

The Governance and Politics of the European Union

The European Union is the most highly developed international organization in terms of its powers and policy responsibilities. It is also an important level of governance for its member states and a major economic and political actor internationally. This module is designed to enable you explore how governance and the policy processes of the EU work. The initial focus is on the patterns of governance in the EU: the roles of institutions and other actors, the policy instruments available and the different phases of the policy process: from agenda-setting through formulation, the legislative process to implementation.

You will explore who holds power in the EU at different stages and in different scenarios. The module then explores the dynamics of different EU policy areas. You will explore key policy areas such as monetary union, the single market and foreign policy. You will also be able to consider the challenges associated with the EU crisis (Eurozone, migration and Brexit). A public policy focus is at the core of the module but you are encouraged to use a range of theoretical positions: from international relations, comparative politics, political economy and critical approaches. Student choice is facilitated by a free choice of topic for the second essay, which can be on any topic related to the syllabus.

Wellbeing in Politics and Policy

There has been a dramatic rise in political interest in wellbeing over the past decade. Politicians and policy-makers in a range of contexts – national and international – have moved towards embracing wellbeing as a more comprehensive, inclusive and appropriate goal of public policy than the traditionally narrow focus on indicators of economic prosperity. This has led to the development of wellbeing frameworks that embrace indicators of subjective wellbeing (e.g. happiness), environmental and social concerns alongside economic indicators. For some these developments have the potential to transform aspects of politics and policy in the long term.

This module explores conceptual, empirical and policy-related aspects of wellbeing. You will examine competing definitions, understandings and measurements of wellbeing and related concepts such as quality of life and happiness. In doing so, you will acquire a clear understanding of how and why wellbeing has risen up political agendas, the significance of developments in policy to date and the potential for wellbeing as a political idea and guide to policy.


Freedom is one of the most important political values, if not the most important one of all. This module investigates the political value of freedom via an engagement with the literature in contemporary political theory. In doing so, it seeks to develop answers to complex, challenging and contested questions. Do freedom and equality conflict? What is the relationship between freedom and security? Should liberal states interfere with illiberal groups? Does freedom entail a belief in open borders? Should hate speech be permitted?

The approach is theoretical and philosophical with the overall aim being to equip you with the skills to analyse and evaluate political arguments which invoke the value of freedom. We will focus on competing theories of freedom (negative, positive, republican); the relationship between freedom and other values (autonomy, equality, security); and a number of applied issues (the harm principle, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement, the limits of the market, and false-consciousness). In so doing, we will address the work of philosophers and theorists including: Elizabeth Anderson, Isaiah Berlin, G.A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, Amy Gutmann, Sally Haslanger, Robert Nozick, Philip Pettit, Judith Shklar, Jeremy Waldron, and Bernard Williams.

Dissertation in International Political Economy

Each degree entails a dissertation, which is a substantive project in which you will be expected to undertake research-led inquiry on a topic that is relevant to your degree. You will have a great deal of intellectual freedom to select your topic and define the parameters of enquiry. To support you with this, you will be given a dedicated dissertation supervisor, who will offer you one-to-one guidance at all stages of the dissertation process. For many students, the dissertation is the high-point of their studies, which makes individual supervision one of the most rewarding ways to learn.

Research and Preparation (Autumn Semester)

Four three-hour workshops One 3,000 preparatory paper

Dissertation (Spring Semester)

Dedicated one-to-one supervision Completion of 12,000-word dissertation

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The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

Information last updated: 11 May 2020

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