Fall 2023 - 61080 - PA 387G - The Nature of the International System


This course, a requirement for all students pursuing the Master of Global Policy Studies degree, introduces students to the systematic analysis of international affairs. It provides students with some theories and frameworks to approach global policy problems methodically, while also forcing students to critically examine the blind-spots, omissions, and structures of power that these frameworks create. By the end of the course, students should be literate enough in the language of international relations to be able to engage confidently in the discussions that they will inevitably encounter in their future careers, while also understanding the inherent problems and limitations of these perspectives. The first section of the course concentrates on the traditional Western international relations canon. Students will learn the different starting assumptions, logics, and foci of the major streams of the international relations discipline. By the end of the first six weeks, students should be able to articulate the ways that varieties of realism, liberalism, constructivism, and Marxism understand the international system—and how these theories can help policymakers make sense of the world around them, and respond to global policy challenges. The second section delves into the complexities of some major international relations concepts, unpacking the ways in which the simplifications and assumptions of international relations theories blind us to certain global phenomena. We examine how notions such as state sovereignty, national security, or economic development create categories and ways of thinking that can obscure problems, or maintain existing power relations. By the end of the last six weeks of the course, students should be able to confidently spot the ways that the rhetoric and frameworks of standard international relations scholars, politicians, and policymakers can limit our understanding of global policy problems and their potential solutions. The reading load for this course is relatively heavy (150-200 pages per week). Students are evaluated on class participation (both in person and on an online forum on Canvas), an in-class mid-term exam, an oral exam, and an in-class final exam.

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