Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to one of the central, yet highly contested, concepts of international relations: 'the international system'.
  • It looks first at the idea of the international system as an inter-state structure, and considers the relationship between this stage of its evolution and the emergence of the core concepts of international relations as a scholarly discipline.
  • It then considers the principal drivers transforming the system in the latter half of the 20th century under the ambiguous and no less contested concept of globalisation, and the consequent shift away from state-centric theories to those which re-connect IR to contemporary social and economic theory.


  • The module looks at the contested idea of the international system, and is divided into two parts.
  • In the first meeting the primary intellectual concerns of the module are outlined and an overview of the relevant theoretical material provided.
  • In the next four meetings of part one the module provides an account of the international system as an inter-state system, and looks at related concepts and issues, such as anarchy, order, international society and the potential of institutions.
  • Part two of the module addresses the rise of challenges to a state-centric system, locating these in the diverse debates about globalisation and a socialised world order.
  • It examines questions of change to the nature, diversity, and purpose of actors, and the transference of politics to new levels and spheres.
  • It also explores the usefulness of alternative intellectual frameworks for studying a system in which states and statism are no longer predominant.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An appropriately advanced understanding of the contested nature of the idea of 'the international system'.
  • Advanced knowledge of the principal ways in which the international system has been conceptualised and the resulting debates and disputes including the role of non-state actors in the discourse.
  • Knowledge of the idea of an inter-state system and challenges arising from the idea and practices of globalisation.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to describe, analyse and assess key debates in thinking about the international system.
  • The ability to engage appropriately with advanced scholarly literature on the topic.
  • Critical thinking about the idea of the international system, and the ability to defend analytical conclusions on the subject.
Key Skills:
  • Research skills in identifying and assessing the suitability of material.
  • Presentation of work to appropriate academic standards.
  • Self-reliance in working through meeting word limits and deadlines.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module is taught through seminars, which offer students an opportunity to present the results of their reading and research, developing arguments and considering competing analyses in a structured and guided framework. Students are required to prepare for and participate in seminars, helping them refine and develop their subject skills and demonstrate their subject knowledge through discussion with other students and the tutor.
  • Summative assessment is by 3000-word essay, requiring students to show an appropriate depth of knowledge about a set topic, and to develop an analytical argument that demonstrates their attainment of key skills. Essays must be submitted in an appropriate scholarly format. Word limits and deadlines test organisation and self reliance.
  • Formative assessment is by presentation, with written feedback concentrating on those aspects of presentations, such as depth of knowledge, analytical ability and organisation of material, most important for essays. Students also receive feedback on presentation skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 9 1 hour 9
Seminars 9 Weekly 1 hour 9
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays - when module taught in Michaelmas Term Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 - submitted 3 weeks before the end of Michaelmas Term 2,500 words 50%
Essay 2 - submitted at the beginning of Epiphany Term 2,500 words 50%
Component: Essay - when module taught in Epiphany Term Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay - submitted at the end of the second week of Easter Term 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

15-minute class presentation.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University