Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Theories of International Relations

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT International Relations

DESCRIPTION The study-unit introduces students to the study of international relations by connecting classical theories in IR to current world affairs.

The main objective is to enable students to understand the dynamics of international relations today and to analyse, independently, changes that occur within society as an effect of these transformations. The following questions will serve as focal points in the lectures: Why do we study international relations? Why is war a recurring phenomenon in international relations? Why do societies change as a result of intercultural interactions? Why are nations so unequal? Who benefits from wars and conflicts? What determines the nature of economic growth and competition? What are the means for avoiding confrontation and chaos or the collapse of an economic system? Is it justified that terrorists fight for a cause? How can societies feel safe within a system of international relations? Do cultures and religions play a peaceful role in international relations?

The study-unit will reference such questions to classical theories of authors such as Hobbes, Kant, Rousseau, Machiavelli, Lorenz and others who are commonly cited as precursors of contemporary international relations theory. Discussions will focus on the relevance these authors have had on the establishment of international relations as a discipline, and how far their texts can be used to analyse contemporary international politics. The study-unit will also attempt to show how classical authors can be read to provide a more comprehensive critique of contemporary international relations. The goal in this study-unit is to help students understand the theoretical foundations that determine the forces that shape international relations and societies today.


At the end of the study-unit the learner will be exposed to the following specialised knowledge:

The concept of the state in its classical and current significance;
A conceptual framework for the study of international relations;
Schools of Thought in theories of international relations;
The concept of the “general will”;
Rule of Law and foreign policy;
Aggression and core values upheld by democratic nation-states;
Prescriptions and prerequisites for peace;
Non-governmental actors and world affairs.


At the end of the study-unit the learner will have mastered the following skills:

An understanding of the political, economic and cultural impacts of nationhood as against statehood;
An insight into a structure of IR theory based on five indicators history, law, human nature, futurology and the social pact;
An overview of the impact of elements of realism, rationalism, structuralism and revolutionism in IT theory;
An understanding of the “general will” in the affairs of the state and in bi/multi relations between states;
A critical understanding of the overarching structures of law and foreign policy that largely determine global understanding;
The predictive capacity to visualise the roots of conflict in IR and the benefits of the core values of democracy: security, freedom, well-being and identity;
An insight into how factors determining peace and conflict within and between states can be institutionalised;
An understanding of the role of civil society in world affairs today and how active citizen participation can change the traditional routes of statehood and nationhood.


At the end of the study-unit the learner will have acquired the responsibility and autonomy to:

Discuss and critically review classical and contemporary theories of IR;
Critically construct a conceptual framework for the study of IR;
Communicate effectively on schools of thought that have determined the study of IT today;
Discuss and critically review aspects of the “general will” within the framework of IR theories;
Discuss and critically review aspects of the rule of law and foreign policy in the context of IR issues;
Critically deploy classical and contemporary theories of IR to illustrate core values of the State in contrast with aspects of aggression and violence as documented in history;
Discuss and critically review a number of prescriptions and prerequisites for peace-building in IR;
Provide insights to the role of non-governmental actors in IR particularly within international institutions.

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the study-unit the learner will be able to:

Write and speak about classical and contemporary theories of IR in the context of world affairs today;
Demonstrate an own conceptual framework for the study of IR;
Deploy a range of schools of thought to substantiate theories of IR in the context of world affairs today;
Develop a constructive design of the impact of the concept of “general will” on IR;
Demonstrate an ability to communicate thoughts on all aspects determining effective IR through; foreign-policy analysis and the application of international law;
Demonstrate an ability to analyse aspects of aggression and security as determining the structure and function (internally and externally) of States;
Write and speak about the classical and contemporary indicators of cooperation and peaceful relations between States in an age of information and communication technology;
Deploy, participate and take initiatives within civil society to highlight global issues in IR such as international terrorism, gender, the environment, sovereignty and changes in statehood and nationhood.

Reading List:

Jackson R and Sorensen G., (2007) Introduction to International Relations – Theories and Approaches, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Ken Booth and Steve Smith [eds], (1995) International Relations Theory Today, Polity Press.
Stern G., (2000) The Structure of International Society, Pinter London and Washington.
Colin Wight, (2006) Agents, Structures and International Relations, Cambridge University Press.
Beitz R C. (1999) Political Theory and International Relations, Princeton University Press.

Additional references

Weber C. (2001) International Relations Theory. A critical introduction Routledge London and New York.
Brown C. (1997) Understanding International Relations, London Routledge.
Halliday F. (1994) Rethinking International Relations. Vancouver UBC Press.
James A. (1986) Sovereign Statehood: the Basis of International Society. London Allen & Unwin.
Booth R. and Smith S. eds (1995) International Relations Today. Cambridge: Polity.
Frost M. (1996) Ethics in International Relations: a constructive theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spegele R.D. (1996) Political Realism in International Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Seminar Paper SEM2 No 30%
Examination (2 Hours) SEM2 Yes 70%

LECTURER/S Angela Pennisi Di Floristella


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2022/3. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.