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Department of Politics and International Studies

Conflict, rights and justice

Course Code:
15PPOH018
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

This course is about the politics of normative change in international relations generally, and more particularly about the ways in which specific developments – human rights, transitional and international criminal justice, the laws of war, and humanitarianism – have impacted on world politics, especially in situations of conflict. We address this question theoretically and empirically. We consider various explanations of why particular human rights norms have been adopted. Who promotes these institutions, and who resists them? Are they effective at achieving what they seek to achieve? What hampers their effectiveness and what consequences – intended and unintended – flow from this? Does the embedding of these institutions in norms, rules, laws and courts, represent a permanent constraint on state sovereignty (even if only of some states), or a transient phenomenon in international relations that will have no long term impact on the nature of world politics? We consider the politics that underpin the growth of a global human rights protection system, the rise of humanitarianism and of international law to deal with conflict, and the growth of transitional justice and international criminal justice. In doing this we draw a map of the ‘architecture’ of morality and justice at the international level. Specific topics covered also include norms about the use of weapons, the targeting of civilians, and accountability, both during and after conflict, for state and individual decisions and actions. We examine the impetus for and limits to intervention, and look at the more or less permanent reality of global governance for many vulnerable populations, especially in Africa. In conclusion, we consider questions of legitimacy and authority in the international system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Identify, explain and appraise theories of International Relations relevant to the understanding of the politics of norms, international justice, and the laws of war
  • Identify, explain and appraise concepts in International Relations relevant to the understanding of the politics of norms, international justice, and the laws of war
  • Analyse critically theories of International Relations relevant to the understanding of the politics of norms, international justice, human rights and the laws of war
  • Apply theories and concepts in International Relations to the critical analysis of contemporary international issues in international normative politics
  • Conceptualise and prepare verbally and in written form arguments based on the analysis of theories and concepts in International Relations as they relate to international normative politics
  • Apply concepts and theories to analyse a case study in the politics of norms
  • Develop, in association with the unit lecturers, research skills in areas of international normative politics through the self-motivated development, analysis, researching and writing of a 5,000-word assessed coursework essay based on this case study

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% coursework and 50% unseen exam.