Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POL2020: Contemporary Theories of World Politics

This module descriptor refers to the 2023/4 academic year.


NQF Level 5
Credits 15 ECTS Value 7.5
Term(s) and duration

This module will run during term 1 (11 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Harrison Swinhoe (Lecturer)





Available via distance learning


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 successively examines the four factors that have been said by theorists to fundamentally shape international politics: leaders’ security-based (ir-)rational choices, global economic trends, collective identities and norms, and language, discourses and narratives. It will then examine two particularly important dimensions of international politics that scholars have highlighted through the lenses of some of the four factors: sex and gender on the one hand, and the colonial legacy on the other hand. The architecture of the module reflects this structure: the course is organized with weekly thematic blocks, each dedicated to one of these different factors and then the two dimensions. Understanding why/how these factors are said to matter, and systematically putting them at play empirically, will allow us to both indirectly survey the key ‘-isms’ and theoretical influences of the field beyond their superficial aspects, and to expand our horizon by looking at powerful theories of social behaviour and conflict not usually included within the IR discussion. We do so by explaining 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.

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