Understanding World Politics: a Critical Overview of Core Issues and Theories

Dr Zeynep Kaya

See this course profiled on the PKP 2015 blog!

The world seems to have become increasingly complex. Whereas before, at least theoretically, power and interest may have explained why wars occurred or why some states embarked in campaigns of territorial expansion, understanding the world nowadays requires an analysis of new actors, new ideas, and new dynamics that have merged the local with the global. This course embraces such complexity, studying the main structures, actors, dynamics, and processes that define world politics today, and taking into account the multiple and competing explanations about it. As an introductory course, it aims to provide students with main conceptual, analytical and theoretical tools to explain world politics. The course will first offer students an introduction to the field of International Relations to understand some of the key questions that scholars and policy makers have focused on, and how the field has been transformed as the world has changed around them. It will then study a series of pressing contemporary issues, including war, security, development, human rights, terrorism and the environment, paying particular attention to US foreign policy, the Middle East and non-state actors. It will do so by addressing a series of questions such as: Is US power in decline? Are wars and poverty in the Global South a reflection of the structure of power in world politics? Is environmental degradation a security threat? Do human rights norms and normative values shape state behaviour? Do non-governmental organisations, multinational corporations and terrorist groups set the international political agenda in any meaningful way? What is the role of nationalism and religion in international politics? These cases and questions will be analysed through different theories including realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism, feminism, and postcolonial theory. At the end of the course students will be able to identify different ways of understanding world politics and develop the capacity to produce well-informed analyses about it.

This course is aimed at: anyone with an interest in international politics, those who wish to develop a better understanding of the world today, anyone who is seeking a stronger background for their degrees or careers which require a grasp of contemporary world politics. It would suit those inside and outside the Social Sciences by broadening their conceptual understanding of world politics and providing them with new analytical tools.

Pre-requisite knowledge required: no prior knowledge of either International Relations or International Politics is assumed or required.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills: this course will develop critical analysis, an understanding of world affairs and the ability to capture this understanding and analysis both on paper and verbally.

Required Pre Arrival Reading

It is recommended that you familiarise yourself with the following texts before arriving in Cambridge:

Chris Brown and Kirsten Ainley eds , Understanding International Relations, 4th revised ed. (Palgrave, 2009). (Introduction)

John Baylis, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens (eds.), The Globalization of World Politics, 5th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2011) (Chapters 2 – 4)

Cynthia Weber, International Relations Theory: A Critical Introduction. (London: Routledge, 2013). (Chapter 11)


1 Final Essay (2,500-3,000 words): 50%

1 Final Exam: 50%

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)