International political theory IR2083

This course develops, extends and deepens theoretical topics covered in IR1011 Introduction to international relations, as well as introducing students to a range of new texts, theories and concepts.

International political theory is about different ways in which the nature of international politics may be explained, understood and judged. As a topic it is focused on theoretical texts and concepts (rather than empirical, historical material).


If taken as part of a BSc degree, courses which must be passed before this course may be attempted:

  • IR1011 Introduction to international relations.

Topics covered

Dominant theories of international politics from the foundation of international relations as a discipline in 1919 to the end of the Cold War:

  • Liberalism (liberal internationalism, pluralism, interdependence, neo-liberalism)
  • Realism (classical political realism and neo-realism)
  • International society
  • Marxism/ structuralism (dependency, world-systems theory)

Critical theories of international politics:

  • Critical theory
  • Post-structuralism
  • Feminist theory

Methodological debates:

  • Can IR be a science?
  • Structure and agency in explaining international politics
  • Constructivism.

Theorising international politics in the 21st century:

  • Normative discourse in international politics
  • Unipolarity and the question of empire
  • Cultural bias in IR theory.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of different frameworks for thinking about international politics
  • Demonstrate knowledge of a range of ideas, concepts and texts in international political theory and the historical contexts in which they arose
  • Distinguish and evaluate different methodological approaches within the study of international politics
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of alternative ways of explaining, understanding and judging contemporary international politics.


Unseen written exam (3 hrs).

Essential reading

  • Baylis, John and Steve Smith (eds). The Globalization of World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Brown, Chris, Terry Nardin and Nicholas Rengger (eds) International Relations in Political Thought: texts from the Ancient Greeks to the First World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brown, Chris. Understanding International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Burchill, S., Andrew Linklater et al. Theories of International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Williams, H., M. Wright and T. Evans (eds). A Reader in International Relations and Political Theory. Milton Keynes: Open University.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.