Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA49630: International Relations Theory

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA49630: International Relations Theory

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is a graduate-level introduction to International Relations (IR) theory. The module surveys both mainstream and critical approaches to the subject, including (but not limited to) IR theory as a theoretical field, as a social science, and as an approach to ‘actually existing’ world politics. The module aims to critically reflect on the relationship between the theory and practice international relations.
  • The module provides students with an advanced understanding of select key concepts and theories in International Relations;
  • The module enables students to critically evaluate theoretical arguments;
  • The module enables students to develop advanced skills in the deployment of theory;
  • To demonstrate the role of theory in examining international events and processes.


  • Flipped classrooms: Five lectures will be taught using the flipped classroom approach. Flipped classrooms support student learning by having students take a greater role in their own learning. By giving students greater leadership in the classroom, flipped classrooms also encourage wider awareness of different learning needs. While this format allows students to direct the issues and questions raised in the class, it also provides space to supervise students in groups when applying IR theories to specific case studies. Flipped classrooms creates a safe space for students to test their knowledge and skills and receive immediate feedback.
  • Lectures will provide theoretical grounding for the module, providing context in which to understand the core concepts, issues, theories, and/or debates that the module explores. Lectures may also respond to significant debates, major theoretical approaches, key thinkers, and/or explore the relationship of IR theory to relevant contemporary issues (e.g., war, logistics, global governance, political economy, climate change, etc.).
  • Indicative content of the lectures and flipped classroom sessions includes:
  • o Realism
  • o Idealism
  • o Liberalism
  • o Marxism
  • o Critical Theory
  • o Feminism
  • o Post-colonialism
  • o Post-structuralism
  • o The “English School”
  • o “Global IR”
  • o Security
  • o Ethics and War
  • o Democratic Peace
  • o The Environment
  • o Justice
  • o Power
  • o Sovereignty

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students will acquire knowledge and understanding of:
  • • key concepts and theories in International Relations;
  • • specific debates within International Relations;
  • • specific literatures within International Relations;
  • • A deep appreciation of the significance of theory in political research.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • • The ability to use critically the relevant theoretical concepts and approaches in international theory;
  • • Effectively describing and applying more advanced academic literatures;
  • • Identifying and evaluating key disputes and debates in the context of international theory;
  • • Showing awareness of and some sophistication in the use of methodological ideas and approaches to theorising.
Key Skills:
  • Students will also develop some important key skills, suitable for underpinning study at this and subsequent levels, such as:
  • • Independent learning within a defined framework of study at an advanced level;
  • • Independent thought in analysing and critiquing existing scholarship on the subject area and in evaluating its contribution;
  • • Advanced ability to seek out and use relevant data sources, including electronic and bibliographic sources, as well as primary sources, and policy reports;
  • • Ability for independent thinking informed by the academic debate at an advanced level.
  • • Advanced essay-writing skills and the ability to work to a deadline;
  • • Effective written communication of research and policy applications;
  • • Ability to reflect critically on their own work and performance.

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

  • Students are taught through one-hour lectures, including an introductory lecture on the topics and issues to be covered over the duration of the year. The lectures are designed to introduce students to key topics and debates within International Relations theory and ground the material to be covered in the flipped classrooms.
  • Flipped-classrooms: Five lectures lecture will be taught in the format of flipped classrooms. Flipped classrooms support students in their engagement with and understanding of the course content by having them take greater responsibility for framing the content of specific classes thereby guiding their learning processes and participate in group work.
  • Summative work will consist of a 1,500 word book review from a pre-selected list provided by the instructor. The book review provides the opportunity to develop skills needed for the summative essay, wherein the student critically explores a major school of IR theory
  • Students are required to submit a 3,000 word summative essay on themes covered in the module due towards the end of Easter term. Guidance on the summative essay will be provided in Epiphany term.
  • In Michaelmas, students are asked to complete a formative take-home exam comprising a couple of short answer questions. They will need to answer 2 questions from a selection, with each question having a word limit of 750 words; i.e., 1,500 words total. Students will have 72 hours to complete the assignment. The questions will provide students with the opportunity to, for example: demonstrate a close understanding of the course content by having to explain key concepts and/or theories, including the identification and overview of significant debates within the field, and identify the significance of specific theorists. The shorter word count will help students to focus their answers, thus helping them develop their writing skills for the subsequent assignments.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 15 Weekly 1 hour 15
Flipped classroom (lectures) 5 Weekly 2 hours 10
Preparation and Reading 275
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Book Review Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Book Review Essay 1500 words 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Take home exam (1500 words) in Michaelmas Term.

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