[skip to content]

Department of Politics and International Studies

Power in world politics

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

This course explores different understandings of ‘power’ in international relations. The first part discusses the link between politics and (relations of) power and unravels the still popular view of power as a straightforward realist concept. The second part introduces students to three faces of power understood as winning conflicts, setting agendas and shaping normality, respectively, and traces their presence in the arguments of dominant IR theories. It also discusses material (‘hard’) and ideational (‘soft’) forms of power and their relationship, and it engages the distinction between ‘power over’ and ‘power to’. The third part of the course asks students to apply different readings of power to specific case studies ranging from the Cold War to phenomena of globalization and the ‘War on Terror’.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • Familiarity with the academic literature and debates on ‘power’ in international politics
  • The ability to use theories to understand different kinds of power relations and their possible interaction by drawing on Social Theory and International Relations Theory (drawing out conceptions of power embedded in Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, IPE, Feminism, Postcolonialism, Security Studies) and applying them to a specific empirical case
  • The ability to critically engage with the academic literature on power, and to present and critique competing scholarly arguments
  • The ability to undertake an independent research project focusing on one or multiple facets of power in international relations

Method of assessment

Assessment is 70% coursework (comprising one 6000 word essay), 10% seminar participation, and 20% seminar presentation.