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Department of Politics and International Studies

Sociology of International Norms

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2014/2015
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 2

This half-unit course of 10 two-hour seminars introduces students to the sociology of international norms. The ten weeks look in more depth at the culture and practice of advocates and activists for human rights, humanitarianism and international justice. After an initial introduction to the relationship between normative ideas and ethical practice, the course looks in more detail at aspects of the current international human rights, humanitarian and justice regimes including the ways they transcribe and interpret their own history, issues of ‘translation’ between local and global settings, how we should understand the practice of ‘impartiality’ and the ways in which ‘trauma and suffering’ function to form and empower political movements. The course also considers how the representation of ideas about universality is visible in the aesthetic, architecture and rituals of human rights and humanitarianism. The concluding two weeks concentrate on the fraught relationship between religion and human rights – particularly in what some are calling the ‘post-secular age' – and what this means for the future of the European Enlightenment ideal of universal norms. Throughout the course emphasis will be firmly on theory and practice in relationship and students will be asked to draw on and develop contemporary and historical examples of what we might call ‘ethics in political action’. Core literature for the course is drawn from that in International Relations theory – the sociology of international politics one of the sub-fields from which the inspiration for this course is drawn – and this makes it an appropriate half-unit option for the Politics’ Department’s MSc in International Politics.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On completion of the course students will have the following:

  • An ability critically to understand and apply core concepts in the study of norms in theory and practice with particular reference to their origins and deployment.
  • An ability to understand the politics of norms in practice and theory through a sociological lens.
  • An ability for practitioner-students to reflect on their own social context and practice in the fields of human rights, humanitarianism and international justice and for students considering humanitarian practitioner careers to reflect on the opportunities and risks they present.
  • The skills to conceptualise, research and write a research paper on a self-chosen topic.
  • Knowledge of the historical evolution of humanitarianism, human rights and international justice.
  • An ability to distinguish and apply different conceptions of what grounds norms; transcendental or temporal authority, democratic legitimacy or tradition and habituation.
  • Knowledge of the relations between power and norms as manifested in international political practice.
  • An ability critically to analyse the politics of norms across diverse sectors with particular reference to global-local relations of authority and power.
  • An ability to keep up-to-date with developments in the politics of international norms.

Method of assessment

Assessment is 100% coursework (one 5000-word essay). Coursework is resubmissable.