Understanding International Relations Theory

Coursera Understanding International Relations Theory

Higher School of Economics
4 hours/week
12 weeks
Paid Certificate Available
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The course aims to introduce the key assumptions of the international relations theory as a part of social science and as an analytic tool, focusing on the problems of war and peace, foreign policy decision-making, etc. The course combines historic approach and analysis of the modern political problems. The historic part shows the evolution of the international relations theory from being a part of political philosophy to its emergence as a special branch of political science, which is essential to understand the key ideas of the IR science. The lectures also include broad outline of the modern concepts and debates in the context of the contemporary political problems, such as rise of China and other emerging powers, threat of terrorism, US-Russia confrontation, etc.

The lectures of the two outstanding Russian scholars and political analysts – Timofey Bordachev and Dmitry Suslov - cover such fields as the problems of international security and conflict resolution, international economic relations, foreign policy decision-making, global governance, the role of power in the IR.

Birth of the science and classical tradition
The module aims to introduce to the ancient roots of the modern IR theories. Starting form Thucydides and his "History of Peloponnesian War" the lecture teaches to the student's further intellectual development of the realist paradigm of international relations: Machiavelli, Hobbes and creation of the Treaty of Westphalia, which in many respects became a foundation of the modern international politics.

Origins of Liberalism
The lecture introduces the students to the second grand paradigm of international relations: liberalism. What if the international politics is not a static world of fights and survival, but a permanent movement to a better world? The origins of the new approach lies in the age of Enlightenment and even earlier - in the very core ideas of Christianity.

The beginning: the World Wars and genesis of the IR science
Since the very beginning the development of political thought was hugely stimulated by wars. In the first half of the XX century the question of war and peace became critical for survival of our civilisation. The module introduces to the great debates between the two grand paradigms during the World Wars and explains how the first scientific theories emerged from these debates.

Kenneth Waltz and Structural Theory
The Cold War became a new intellectual challenge for the IR thinkers. How to survive in the nuclear age? The module introduces to the realist answer, which took a form of the structural realism.

Neoliberalism: The Liberal paradigm after the WWII
The module aims to teach the evolution of the liberal paradigm during the Cold War. Failed to build up an "eternal peace" after the French Revolution and after the WWI, liberalism proposes a new, even more comprehensive theory to make a new attempt.

Marxism and Neo-Marxism
While the two classical paradigms passes through great debates, Marxism proposes a fundamentally different picture of the world. Welcome to the world of class struggle and imperialist wars: a comprehensive study of economic factors, which drives the world politics will challenge the very basic assumptions of realism and liberalism.

Critical IR theories (Constructivism, Postmodernism, Feminism)
The end of the Cold War, which have never been predicted by any classical theory, put a question about their legitimacy and broke up fundamental academic debates. The module introduce to the so-called critical theories and their interpretation of the key problems of world politics.

Actors in international relations
The module focuses on the one of the key theoretical problems in the IR science: who is actor of international politics? While some theories assumes that only states have enough capabilities ti be considered as actors if IR, some concepts assume that even an individual can play an important role. The module introduces the students to these important debates.

Power in international relations
Power is the fundamental category of political science. What is power in IR and how can we classify it? What is the balance of power concept? Which state is the most powerful in the world and can a non-state actor dominate the world politics? The module give answers to these and other questions relating the topic.

Global governance
Is it possible to establish a world government? And will it lead to "eternal peace"? These questions are essential to understand the key patterns and contradictions, which drive the modern international politics.

Back to classics: the Realist Paradigm in the XXI century
The most ancient concept emerges again in the XXI century: with new conflicts, hybrid wars and power struggle between the key states realism seems to be the best to explain international politics. Does it mean that the mankind never changes and the modern world is not so different from the world of Thucydides? Or the realist theories just adapt themselves to the modern world?

Russia as a realist power
Russian foreign policy seems to be a mystery for many observers. The module proposes a realist interpretation of the Russian actions within the international system. Does it give an all out explanations?

Taught by
Timofei Bordachev and Dmitrii Suslov
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