Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA47730: International Relations Theory

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA47730: International Relations Theory

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.
Tied to M9K607
Tied to M1K507
Tied to M9L007
Tied to (new) International Relations


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module provides a critical survey of contemporary international relations theory, providing an advanced understanding of major theoretical approaches and the principal debates within the field.
  • The module is taught in three blocks, organising its survey around three perspectives: those theories seeing the inter-state dimension as central, those that focus on trans-national actors and processes, and those concentrating on the inter-human dimension.


  • Material considered in each block will normally include a selection of the following indicative theories:
  • Inter-state theories: classical realism, neo-realism, neo-classical realism, neo-liberal institutionalism, the ‘English school’, theories of foreign policy making, theories of security, Just War theory, geopolitics, Democratic Peace theory.
  • Trans-national theories: neo-liberal global political economy, dependency theory, world systems theory, neo-Gramscianism, theories of regional integration.
  • Inter-human theories: critical theory, theories of gender, theories of global distributive justice, post-structuralism, human rights, theories of global civil society.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Advanced knowledge of a range of contemporary international relations theories.
  • Critical understanding of theoretical debates within international relations.
  • A sophisticated assessment of the impact of different perspectives on theorising international relations.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Advanced comparative analytical skills in the assessment of the merits of different theoretical perspectives on international relations.
  • Critical engagement, assessment and evaluation of different forms of theoretical analysis and argument.
  • The ability to develop effective theoretical arguments in defence of a specific intellectual position in relation to international relations theories.
  • Advanced understanding of central methodological debates within theories of international relations.
Key Skills:
  • Effective presentation of scholarly analysis.
  • Independent research skills to augment initial guidance on suitable sources.
  • Effective assessment of the quality and suitability of scholarly sources.
  • Demonstrate skills of independent learning through reaching and defending personal intellectual judgments on complex issues.

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

  • Following an initial introductory lecture setting out aims, learning outcomes and teaching, learning and assessment methods, the module is principally taught through 18 one-hour lectures, typically five on theories within each perspective, with an introductory lecture to each perspective. Lectures serve as a means to impart foundational knowledge of the module’s material and to establish key areas of debate and dispute. They provide a basis for further independent study, supporting analysis of the merits of different theories and comparative assessment of theories and perspectives. Within a module where students will typically have diverse levels of prior knowledge of international relations theory, lectures also provide a common body of core knowledge, facilitating interaction amongst students as part of independent learning. Lecture attendance is compulsory. In addition, the learning will be supported through timetables on-line discussions, drop-in ‘surgeries’ and through academic staff’s regular ‘office hours’.
  • On-line discussions will take place throughout each lecture block and provide an opportunity for the academic member of staff responsible for the discussion to initiate and moderate student discussion of the issues and topics raised in lectures and to respond to student queries. Academic staff time will be a mix of scheduled, ‘live’ participation (one hour per week) and periodic moderation of student discussion to ensure discussions do not perpetuate misunderstandings or inaccuracies (one hour spread across the week to fit with other staff commitments).
  • Timetabled two-hour drop-in ‘surgeries’ will be held at the end of each lecture block where an academic staff member who has been engaged in the lecturing for that block will be available to meet with individuals or small groups in order to answer questions, clarify issues from the lectures and offer guidance and support to students.
  • Students will also be able to access members of academic staff through their routine ‘office hours’, typically two hours per week when academic staff are available to meet with students to address individual queries and concerns. Participation in these activities is voluntary, reflecting the different levels of prior knowledge of the subject possessed by the diverse student community involved with the degree programmes and also in recognition of the level of individual responsibility for learning that postgraduate students can be expected to take. A one-hour exam preparation lecture will brief students on examiners’ expectations and provide advice on good examination technique and revision tactics. Summative assessment is by three-hour unseen examination in the May/June exam period. The exam paper will require students to answer one question on each block of theories, with questions either requiring comparative analysis across at least two of the theories in each block, or requiring analysis of different forms of theoretical analysis or argument, for example via assessment of different methodological approaches. Formative assessment is by 3 on-line tests held at the end of each exam block. Questions will test students’ knowledge of the main claims made by theories covered in each block, the work of principal theorists discussed and their understanding of foundational conceptual knowledge and understanding of the principal issues of debate within and across theories covered in each block. Students will receive an individually randomised selection of questions from a bank constructed by academic staff, with tests available on-line for a prescribed period and marks provided immediately through the system. Students who fall below a specified threshold will be identified as at risk of failing to adequately achieve the module learning outcomes and identified for follow-up by academic staff.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 19 Distributed evenly throughout the teaching year 1 hour 19
On-line discussion 19 Distributed evenly throughout the teaching year 2 hours 38
Drop-in surgeries 3 At the end of each lecture block (i.e. every 7 weeks) 2 hours 6
Exam lecture 1 Start of Easter Term 1 hour 1
Independent reading and study 237
Total Hours 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Examination 3 hours 100% August

Formative Assessment:

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