Undergraduate Modules

Contemporary International Relations Theory

The global spread of diseases, climate change, slavery, human trafficking, widespread sexual violence, civil war, humanitarian crises, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, recessions, inter-state war, poverty, political oppression, torture - these are but some of the diverse issues that scholars of International Relations are trying to grapple with and tackle. This module looks at how theory can help us think through some of these problems and how theory can help us understand the complex world we live in. We look at how theory can help us make sense of the world, what the purpose of theory should be, and we examine whether theory can help us solve some of the most pressing problems in international relations.

In this module you will consider the development of International Relations (IR) theory, examine the ‘main’ approaches to world politics and aim to assess their strengths and weaknesses. You will examine a range of different theories from Realism to Queer Theory, from Green Theory to Post-Colonialism. You'll also explore the cutting edge theoretical debates that are taking place and question the future direction of IR theory. For example, do we need more ‘non-Western’ IR theory? The study of each theory is directly linked to ‘praxis’ and ‘practice’; therefore each theory is linked to a contemporary problem in international relations such as the financial crisis or the use of chemical weapons. The linking of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ helps us to assess the applicability and utility of the different theories we encounter and to critically assess the constructive role that theory has.

Topics covered on this module include:

  1. What is IR theory?
  2. The history and future of IR theory
  3. Realism, Liberalism and the Iraq War
  4. Neorealism, Neoliberalism and international institutions
  5. Marxism and the financial crisis
  6. Critical theory and the Occupy Movement
  7. Constructivism and chemical weapons
  8. Feminism, Queer Theory and the military
  9. Post-structuralism and humanitarian intervention
  10. Post-colonialism and the university classroom
  11. Green theory and climate change

Second Year
Autumn Semester
Module Code POL223


  • 11 one-hour lectures
  • 11 one-hour seminars


  • Two essays (100%)