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Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of the World Economy

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course offers an introduction to the cross-disciplinary, intellectual field of International Political Economy (IPE). The examination of the global political economy is important for how it sheds light on the complexity of capitalism, including its structures, processes, and outcomes. To accomplish this objective, insights from across the social sciences are needed. In other words, to paraphrase a famous quote, the world economy is too important to be left to the economists. The course is organised around debates in three areas: (1) conceptual frameworks, derived from the study of world politics and the tradition of political economy, including liberalism, Marxism, nationalism, constructivism, and feminism; (2) the post-war history of governing the world economy, including attention to finance, trade, development, and energy; and (3) contemporary issues shaping the capitalist order, including the global financial crisis; socioeconomic inequalities; the new politics of trade regulation; the politics of the knowledge economy; the political economy of work; ethical questions of consumerism; fossil fuel politics and the wider environmental crisis; and new thinking on potential futures for the capitalist system. Students are asked to think critically about how the politics of the international economy is conceived and governed, in particular through evaluating issues of power and equity. There are two main questions addressed throughout the module: (1) why and how does the politics of the world economy take its current form?; and (2) how does the international political economy impact on particular actors, including governments; firms and other producers; civil society groups and other people? A short film series – titled ‘The Glory and Horror of Capitalism’ – will run alongside the course in the first term. The course will conclude with a parliamentary-style debate.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of this course a student should be able to

  • Knowledge of the major theories and approaches in understanding the interaction between politics and economics at the global level
  • Ability to critically evaluate and apply such theories and approaches
  • Knowledge of major substantive themes in International Political Economy
  • Ability to think critically about the relevance of mainstream theories of International Political Economy and their relevance to experience and interests of actors in Asia, Africa and the Middle East
  • Basic understanding of the major international and regional institutions in world politics as well as significant developments in global political economy
  • Ability to analyse the global economy from a variety of perspectives
  • Ability to apply theories to case studies

Scope and syllabus

Term 1
  1. Introduction: Why IPE?
Part I: Conceptual Frameworks
  1. The Liberal Tradition
  2. The Marxist Legacy
  3. Economic Nationalism
  4. Constructivist and Feminist Approaches
Part II: Governing the Postwar Capitalist System
  1. Finance: From Bretton Woods to the Big Bang
  2. Trade: From the GATT to the WTO
  3. Development and its Discontents
  4. Energy: The Struggle For Power
Term 2
Part III: Contemporary Issues in the International Political Economy
  1. The Financial Explosion: Causes and Consequences
  2. The Social Crisis: Understanding Global Inequalities
  3. Reconfiguring World Trade: The WTO and Beyond
  4. The Politics of the Knowledge Economy
  5. Another Day, Another Dollar: The Political Economy of Work
  6. The New Politics of Consumerism: Fair Trade Branding
  7. Fossil Fuels and the Alternatives
  8. A Planetary Emergency: The Political Economy of the Environment
  9. Parliamentary-style debate: A Crisis of Ideas: Rethinking World Capitalism or Something Else?
  1. Conclusion and Revision Session.

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% unseen examination, two pieces of coursework (25% each). Coursework may be resubmitted.

Suggested reading

Suggested reading

Blyth, M. (ed), Routledge Handbook of International Political Economy (IPE): IPE as a Global Conversation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009).

Eagleton-Pierce, M., Neoliberalism: The Key Concepts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

Gilpin, R., Global Political Economy: Understanding the International Economic Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Frieden, J. and Lake, D., International Political Economy: Perspectives on Global Power and Wealth (London: Routledge, 2000).

Ravenhill, J. (ed), Global Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 or 2014). **

Strange, S., States and Markets (London: Frances Pinter Publishers Ltd, 1994).

Walter and Sen, G., Analyzing the Global Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).