SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of the World Economy

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

How and why is the world economy politically governed? This module seeks to address this significant question via debates on the political economy of global trade. The study of international trade is important for shedding light on the complexities and controversies of the capitalist system, including why commercial power is unevenly distributed, how economic value changes over time, and in what ways trade impacts other domains of politics. Trade is not merely the preoccupation of diplomatic struggles but strongly informs all our lives via consumer needs and desires, employment, and environmental impacts. This module is organised into three clusters of topics. First, it introduces the subject matter through attention to major players, patterns of behaviour, and forms of power in the trading system. This context serves as a foundation for an overview of the institutional governance of trade over the past fifty years. Second, the discussion dives into trade-related issue areas that have sparked political interest in recent years, including goods and services, intellectual property, and investment rules. Third, all these topics are brought together in an evaluation of the current strategies of the main regulatory power centres of the world economy: the US, the EU, and China. For students who have taken Introduction to Political Economy, this module serves as a further extension of previous debates but has also been designed to accommodate students who are approaching political economy for the first time.

Please note that student numbers on this module are capped

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of debates within the field of the political economy of world trade, including appreciation for major power dynamics, international institutional history, key trade issue areas, and the strategies of the US, the EU, and China in particular
  • Articulate one’s own normative and political positions on questions concerning the global trading system
  • Demonstrate an effective communication in speech and writing
  • Work independently and with peers to achieve common goal


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: Ruling the World Economy
  2. Players, Patterns, and Powers in World Trade
  3. Institutional History of World Trade 1970-2020
  4. Goods and Services
  5. Intellectual Property
  6. Investment
  7. Case: US
  8. Case: EU
  9. Case: China
  10. Conclusion

Method of assessment

Assignment 1: Essay 50%
Unseen written examination 50%

Suggested reading

  • Eagleton-Pierce, M., Symbolic Power in the WTO (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Hoekman, B. M. and Kostecki, M. M., The Political Economy of the World Trading System (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Irwin, D., Free Trade Under Fire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).
  • Martin, L. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Political Economy of International Trade (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  • Poon, J. and Rigby, D. L., International Trade: The Basics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).



Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules