SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

International Institutions and World Politics

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 2

International institutions both shape, and are shaped by, world politics. History, power, geopolitics, economics, state and non-state actors, and ideas may all impact the way we understand the role, function, influence, and effectiveness of international institutions – whether they take the form of brick and morter inter-governmental organisations or of normative international regimes governing state action.

The purpose of this module is to introduce you to the different theoretical and conceptual approaches to the study of international organisations (IOs), and to explore both the cross-cutting, and organisation-specific, contemporary debates and issues that surround them. The module will begin with a focus on the various approaches to the study of IOs and global governance, some of the theoretical lenses through which we can understand their importance to world politics, and a historical examination of their role in the international security regime governing the use of force. The module will then move to an examination of individual IOs and regimes, including those governing human rights and international criminal accountability, as well as international trade, finance, development. We will conclude with an exploration of, and comparison to, regional organisations, as well as a look at how we might understand the future of regional and global approaches to the governance of migration.

This module is capped at 30 students.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate skills in the following areas:

Course-specific skills
  1. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of debates within field of international organisations, including relevant conceptual frameworks, the international institutional history of such bodies, and major contemporary problems in key issue areas;
  2. Demonstrate the ability to articulate one’s own ethical and political positions on questions of international organisation;
Discipline-specific skills
  1. Demonstrate a systematic understanding of knowledge on international organisation, and a critical awareness of current problems;
  2. Demonstrate a conceptual understanding that enables you to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline;
  3. Evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, propose new hypotheses;
Personal and key skills
  1. Communicate effectively in speech and writing.
  2. Work independently and with peers to achieve common goals.


  • 2 hour seminar per week

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% unseen exam, 40% coursework and 10% seminar participationin class.

Suggested reading

Initial readings:
  • Alvarez, Jose. International Organizations as Law-makers. Oxford University Press, 2006. 
  • Barnett, Michael, and Martha Finnemore. Rules for the World: International Organizations in Global Politics. Cornell University Press, 2004. 
  • Hurd, Ian. International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice. Cambridge University Press, 2014. 
  • Karns, Margaret P. and Karen A. Mingst, International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009).
  • Krasner, Stephen. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. 
  • Simmons, P.J.  and Chantal de Jonge Ourdraat.  Managing Global Issues: Lessons Learned.  Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 2001. 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules