module specification

GI7028 - Theory and Research Methods in International Relations (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19, but may be subject to modification
Module title Theory and Research Methods in International Relations
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 172
136 hours Guided independent study
36 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 50%   Research Essay 2,500 words
Unseen Examination 50%   Unseen Examination
Running in 2018/19
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Afternoon

Module summary

This core module is devoted to approaches in International Relations, their relation to more general social science theories and the theoretical basis of research strategies in international relations. The module also includes workshops on research methods and practical exercises in designing a piece of IR research. The module will give a broad overview of the discipline of International Relations, engaging with the scope of study, key theories and concepts, and will ground these in a historical overview of the international system. Key historical themes are highlighted to demonstrate changes in the patterns and conduct of world politics.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  1. to enable students to understand and compare the wide range of contrasting contemporary theories and research ‘paradigms’ in international relations, bring out the key assumptions about the nature of international relations broadly shared in each tradition and the key concepts used by each school. At the same time the module will enable students to grasp the relationships between evolving theories in the field and real world issues and actors.
  2. to enable students to understand debates, particularly among International Relations scholars about more fundamental issues in social science theory and research methodologies, concerning the nature of understanding and explanation in the social sciences;
  3. to enable students to grapple directly with the operational problems of designing a research question of their own in international relations, and of working out which research methods they would employ for seeking answers to their question. Through achieving these aims, the module is designed to assist students in the other modules on the MA and to complement the separate dissertation workshops.


The syllabus takes as its basis the need to explore the role of wider theoretical debates in the study of international relations and therefore begins with highlighting the differences between positivist and interpretevist approaches. It covers IR traditions such as Realism, Neorealism, the English School, Liberalism as well as some of its variants such as Neoliberal Institutionalism and the Liberal Peace Thesis. It then considers the Marxist basis of Neo-Marxist approaches such as World Systems Theory, Dependency Theory, Gramcianism and Lenin’s theories of Imperialism.

Interpretevist approaches such as Critical Theory, Postmodernism, Feminism and Social Constructivism are also dealt with to demonstrate the dynamic and contemporary nature of international relations and to further highlight the different routes to acquiring knowledge within the discipline.

Learning and teaching

  • Learning and teaching combines lectures, seminars and workshops. Lectures and seminars will focus upon both contrasting IR theories and on contextualising the emergence and evolution of different schools of thought. Workshops will be used to develop students’ ability to explore research methodologies relevant to their own research interests. Teaching and learning will lay emphasis on students studying key texts.
  • Reflective and independent learning is encouraged through the research and writing of an research essay, but also through the interactive lectures and seminar discussions
  • The module makes extensive use of blended learning, primarily through its dedicated Weblearn site. This includes interactive mail and discussion tools, module information, PowerPoint slides, full reading lists, and scanned copies of key texts.
  • Students will be required to attend all classes, to engage in the set activities, to prepare in advance by attempting assigned readings, to complete coursework by deadlines, and to reflect and act on the feedback they receive

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  1. Appreciate the rich diversity in approaches to International Relations
  2. Contrast and compare different ‘paradigms’ in contemporary IR research.
  3. Critically evaluate the knowledge claims made by the various paradigms.
  4. Understand and critically assess debates among IR theorists on differing approaches to explanation and understanding in the social sciences relevant to research in IR.
  5. Appreciate the ways in which the theoretical approaches relate to the practice of actors in international relations
  6. Grasp some of the practical methodological issues at stake in designing their own research in IR.

Assessment strategy

  1. An unseen examination focuses students on questions about various theories current in the study of international relations, appreciate the internal structures of different schools of thought and the relations between different theoretical trends. (50%)
  2. A take-home Research Essay: students are required to choose a question from a series of essay questions, conduct detailed research and write a concise and focused research paper which achieves in addressing the question directly. The overall intention is to encourage them to understand the nature of the theoretical basis of the question, apply IR theories to practical issues by placing their arguments within wider IR debates. Specific questions are designed to ensure that students have grasped the key issues in the debate and can critically assess the strengths and possible weaknesses of the arguments of the protagonists in the debate. (50%)




  • Jeff Haynes, Peter Hough, Shahin Malik, Lloyd Pettiford, World Politics: International Relations and Globalisation in the 21st Century, Second Edition, London, Sage, 2017.
  • Jackson, Robert and Sorensen, Georg, Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches, 5th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Dunne, Tim et al, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Steans, Jill & Pettiford, Lloyd, et al An Introduction to International Relations: Perspectives and Themes, 3rd Edition, Longman, 2010. E-Resource
  • Burchill, Scott., Linklater, Andrew, et al, Theories of International Relations, 5th Edition, London, Palgrave, 2013.
  • Richard Davetak, Anthony Burke and Jim George (Editors), An Introduction to International Relations, Cambridge University Press, 2012. E-Resource


  • Research Guide from the University of South Carolina
  • - excellent resource for the history and politics of the Ancient Greece, including the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 BC) fought between the two leading city-states in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta.
  • - This site contains a lot of information about imperialism and subsequent expansion of the European state system.
  • - This site looks at the history of states, nations, and the notion of sovereignty.