Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module offers a critical overview of some of the principal contemporary theories of international relations. Starting from an initial discussion of different ways of approaching theory, the module looks at a number of major theories, or groups of theories, typically including realism and neo-realism, the 'English school', liberal institutionalism, social constructivism, critical geo-politics and gender. The module serves to provide those new to international relations with some of the necessary theoretical background, whilst a focus on contemporary theorising will help those more familiar with the field develop their critical skills of analysis.


  • Starting from an initial discussion of different ways of approaching theory, the module typically looks at eight major theories, or groups of theories, these may include, for example, realism and neo-realism, the 'English school', liberal institutionalism, social constructivism, critical theory, post-modernism and gender.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A sophisticated understanding of the major methodological debates in contemporary international relations theory and their significance
  • Advanced knowledge of several major theoretical approaches to international relations
  • Critical understanding of the debates between and within theories of international relations
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Advanced analytical skills in the context of theories of international relations
  • Critical engagement, assessment and evaluation of theoretical and conceptual material
  • Ability to establish and defend effectively an intellectual position within the context of theories of international relations
Key Skills:
  • Demonstrate independent research into a detailed and specific topic
  • Demonstrate effective written presentation of research results in suitable scholarly format
  • Demonstrate ability for independent learning.
  • Demonstrate a range of knowledge of several theories and to show critical understanding of methodological issues in theory.
  • Demonstrate analytical skills which will establish and defend an intellectual position in response to exam questions, showing engagement with and evaluation of theoretical and conceptual material.

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

  • The module is taught through two-hour classes combining lecture and seminar discussion.
  • Lectures serve as a means to impart foundational knowledge of the module's material and to establish key areas of dispute and debate. Within a module where there is a wide diversity of academic backgrounds and levels of prior knowledge, lectures also ensure a common basis for contextualising prior study, for seminar discussion and for further study. Attendance at lectures is compulsory.
  • Seminar discussion immediately after the lecture enables students to depart from a shared base-line whilst allowing for a variety of possible lines of enquiry to be tackled. Seminars are student-led and responsive to the needs and interests of students involved, ensuring that they have both the opportunity to and responsibility for shaping their learning. Attendance is voluntary in recognition that students may have different levels of prior knowledge, different interests and different modes of learning and engagement with the literature. It also enables students to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Summative assessment is by a two hour written examination, answering two questions from eight and undertaken in May-June. The exam paper is released 48 hours in advance of the exam to enable students to prepare and undertake preliminary work on answers. The questions will typically include comparative or other question types and answers will be produced under normal examination conditions without recourse to notes or other materials.
  • Summative questions are set by the tutor and are designed to encourage advanced critical engagement with a key controversy in international relations theory. They thus enable assessment of not just students' knowledge and understanding of the material, but also of their subject specific skills. Producing work to a deadline, to length and in an acceptable scholarly format also tests transferable skills.
  • Formative assessment is by 1,000 word essay answering a question from the previous year's exam paper.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures and Seminars 9 Weekly 2 hours (1hr lecture and 1 hr seminar) 18
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
written examination 2 hours 100% August

Formative Assessment:

1,000 word answer to a question from the previous year's examination paper

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