Faculty of Arts


War, Anarchy and the State: Theorising International Relations

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for POLITICS 318.


International politics is dominated by violence, conflict and discord and theorists have long been interested in why it is that the international system seems so prone to war. Some have suggested that conflict is a tragic but inescapable dimension of the anarchical state system, whilst others have argued that cooperation – not conflict – is the norm.

More recently, we have seen a proliferation of critical perspectives that have challenged the state-based framework and methodological assumptions that have dominated the study of international politics. Feminists have pointed to the exclusion of women from the realms of international relations theory and the reproduction of certain gendered norms in discussions about war. Critical theorists have pointed to the oft-neglected suffering and exploitation of ordinary people and castigated traditional theorists for lacking an emancipatory agenda. Postcolonial theorists have pointed to the marginalisation of non-western voices and the reproduction of colonial exploitation in contemporary politics. And finally, environmentalists have warned that the greatest threat to international security is not violence and war but the catastrophic effects of climate change and the political problems that this will cause.

The aim of this course is to investigate the different theoretical approaches that have been used to make sense of international politics, paying particular attention to what these theoretical lenses help us to see and, crucially, what remains unseen. We will cover all the major theoretical perspectives, from realism and liberalism to feminism and Marxism, and we will also examine how issues like terrorism, climate change and humanitarian intervention threaten to undermine traditional understandings of international politics.

To help achieve these goals, I have tried to make the assessments as interesting, engaging and useful as possible. Rather than simply doing an essay and exam, you will have the opportunity to produce a series of blog posts applying these concepts discussed to events in the news. In the past, students have used feminism to make sense of the conflict in Syria, critical theory to explore our obligations to refugees, realism to try to explain US foreign policy in the Middle East. You will still have the chance to produce an essay at the end of the course, exploring some these ideas in much more depth. But don't worry, I will get you to write a short book review of an IR text at the beginning of the course, so that you can get the hang of writing about theory.

Drawing on a range of perspectives, this course looks at how theorists of international relations have sought to understand and explain the international system. Moving beyond the narrow focus on war, states and the state system, the course explores the challenges presented by terrorism, globalisation and environmental degradation, while covering the main theories including realism, liberalism, Marxism, feminism and poststructuralism.

Availability 2018

Availability to be advised


Coordinator(s) Dr Thomas Gregory


POLITICS 318: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in Asian Studies, or Political Studies or Politics and International Relations, or POLITICS 106 and 30 points at Stage II in Global Politics and Human Rights

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