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Study information

Contemporary Theories of World Politics

Module titleContemporary Theories of World Politics
Module codePOL2020
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Alex Prichard ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module provides an in-depth, critical, and historical examination of classic and contemporary theoretical approaches to world politics. The study of conceptual frameworks in International Relations (IR) is crucial because it allows us to move beyond mere description of, and unreflective feelings about, international events, providing instead genuine analyses, explanations, and understandings. Theory has therefore always been the centre of gravity of IR as a discipline, providing points of collaboration and contestation between scholars about what can be known in IR, and how. As Mearsheimer and Walt put it (2013), theory is no less than “the lodestone in the field of IR [and] theorists are the field’s most famous and prestigious scholars”.

To explore IR theories the module explains how the various theoretical approaches are related to one another, not only conceptually but also historically, stressing for each of them the importance of the socio-political context in which they emerged, from the 1920s to the 2010s. Historically, socially and intellectually situating theories, which are mental constructs, is a central aspect of this module.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module provides an introduction to, and critical examination of, contemporary theoretical approaches to world politics. The study of conceptual frameworks in International Relations (IR) is important for how it can enhance our understanding of the dynamics of politics, including why and how the political world takes its existing forms. Theory is also the centre of gravity in the field of IR, providing points of collaboration and contestation between scholars on the nature of international political enquiry.

On completion of this module, you will have a good understanding of the origins and development of IR as an academic discipline, the way in which theory has shaped this development, and the world-historical events that prompted the development of the theory and the subject itself.

The method of the course is broadly contextualist and analytical, inviting you to think about the context of theory development as well as the ways in which theories ‘make sense’ internally and in relation to one another. In the seminars and assessment, students are asked to think in an open and critical manner about the purpose of theories of world politics, including understanding the major attributes of each framework and how, most importantly, they can be ‘put to work’ through empirical illustrations. Students are pushed to embrace a sophisticated vision of IR theories, and start the module with a fresh mind without biased or dogmatic preconceptions on specific approaches.

This module will give you a solid grounding in IR and be of value to all related modules at level 2 and level 3.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of IR theory;
  • 2. show knowledge of contemporary issues in international politics;
  • 3. articulate your own ethical and political positions on questions of international politics.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. critically analyse both empirical and theoretical material in international politics;
  • 5. deploy theoretical arguments and apply them to empirical case studies in international politics;
  • 6. engage in the critique of theoretical arguments in international politics.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. construct reasoned argument;
  • 8. communicate effectively in speech and writing;
  • 9. work independently and with peers to achieve common goals;
  • 10. use ICT appropriately;
  • 11. demonstrate the ability to work independently, within a limited time frame, and without access to external sources, to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics:

  • Theorizing international relations
  • The history of international political thought
  • Global economic factors
  • Identities
  • Language
  • Colonial legacy
  • Gender
  • IR theories today: a fragmented field
  • Conclusions

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity16.511 x 1.5 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity1010 x 1 hour tutorials
Guided Independent study123.5A variety of private study tasks directed by module leader and seminar tutors. These tasks may include:- Reading and note-taking in preparation for class (60 hours); Case analysis preparation (conducting research, writing the finished product) (31.5 hours); Essay preparation (conducting research, writing the finished product) (32 hours)

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Quiz200 words equivalent1-11Written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Theoretical Essay501,500 words1-10Written comments
Exam502 hours1-11Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Theoretical EssayTheoretical Essay (1,500 words) 1-10Referral/Deferral Period
Exam (2 hours)Exam (2 hours)1-11Referral/Deferral Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading


  • Dunne, T., Kurki, M., and Smith, S. (eds.), International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • McGlinchey, S., Walters, R., and Scheinpflug, C. (eds.) International Relations Theory: A Practical Introduction. (Bristol: E-IR, 2017) (free download)


  • Brown, C. and Ainley, K., Understanding International Relations (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
  • Brown, C., Nardin, T., and Rengger, N. J. (eds.), International Relations in Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • Roach, S., Critical Theory and International Relations: A Reader (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006).



Key words search

International Relations, Theory

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date