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International Relations and Democratic Politics (MA)


Course Description

The Masters in International Relations and Democratic Politics provides an advanced critical and comprehensive understanding of the forces shaping state, inter-state relations and global politics. Drawing on key theoretical interpretations of democratic politics, the course probes into various tenets of democratic thinking (ranging from pluralism and civil society to egalitarianism and human rights), and explores the interplay between theory and practice in old and new democracies and in processes of global governance. Is democracy a concept limited to a world of territorially-bounded national communities? Can democracy still limit power in a global world? How does democratic policy making operate in the face of complexity? By raising and examining such questions the course explores the changing and contested understandings of democracy in contemporary thought as well as its application to the international sphere in our increasingly complex world.

Core modules

- Democratic Politics: Key Debates and Issues
The module examines key issues and debates in democratic politics. It focuses on 20th century democratic thought and discusses how key democratic ideas/ ideals have been interpreted and re-interpreted to address dominant trends and changes in democratic societies. The module identifies some of the challenges confronting democratic theory and practice, and it examines differences between old and new democracies. Throughout the module special emphasis is given to the dynamics of democratic institution and democratic renewal.

- Dissertation and Research Methods
You will receive supervised guidance and research methods training (through a series of research method workshops, the dissertation induction and colloquium seminars, and individual dissertation supervision sessions) to prepare you for your Masters dissertation on an agreed research topic. You will begin identifying your dissertation interests at the start of your studies, when you will be able to discuss your ideas with different tutors who may direct you towards taking appropriate option modules that support your future research studies. This module must be taken either following the completion of all other modules, or concurrently with modules in your second semester.

- The Politics of Global Complexity: Rethinking Governance, Power and Agency
This module introduces you to the theoretical frameworks and practices of the politics of global complexity, the debates that have been triggered, and the way that complexity understandings have developed, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. Emphasis is placed upon the conceptual frameworks deployed in understanding system effects on political, economic and social life and how these enable us to rethink democratic governance, power and agency. While focusing on conceptual frameworks, this module also engages with how complexity is reflected in new approaches to policy, and external stakeholders will provide input to the module (for example, the Social Market Foundation, Demos, the New Local Government Network and the Foreign Policy Centre).

Option modules

You must choose four option modules from the following list (one of your options may be an approved free choice module hosted by another Masters course):

- Contemporary Controversies in International Security: Intervention Terrorism and Self Defence
The end of the Cold War fundamentally altered the nature of international security, heralding the emergence of new issues and threats. In the contemporary era the locus and nature of the paramount threats have altered, with intra-state conflicts and non-state actors characterising sources of insecurity. This module will provide you with a comprehensive overview of security discourse and practice since the end of the Cold War relating key issues such as humanitarian intervention, self-defence and terrorism to broader trends such as the evolving role of the UN, the challenges to international law and the new concern with intra-state crises.

- Controversies in United States Foreign Policies and Processes
This module focuses on post-Cold War United States foreign and national security policies, and the US policymaking processes. It exposes you to competing interpretations of both policy and the policymaking process. For example, did the end of the Cold War or 9/11 and the onset of the so-called ‘war on terror’ mark new eras in US foreign and national security policy? And how important is the Congress and US public opinion in the making of US foreign policy? The module shows that US policies are rooted as much in domestic politics as they are in America’s perceptions of its interests in a changing international environment.

- Democracy and Islam
This module gives you the opportunity to examine traditional and modern Islamic political thought, relevant perspectives in modern democratic theory and international relations, and selected case studies and various contributions to the debate from inside and outside the Muslim world. You will be steered through the fields of comparative politics, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and social and political theory, and encouraged to develop a critical understanding of modern democratic theory, assessing the explanations given and providing your own explanations.

- Development Theories, Policies and Practices
This module aims to provide a rounded understanding of key theories that inform thinking about development, especially since the Cold War, and an understanding of some of the most significant policy debates in international development today. It will provide a framework of ideas within which to understand current debates about development theories and give you a comprehensive understanding of major problems and policy debates within the field of development. You will also examine the application of major policies on developing countries; critically assess the social, political and economic impact of globalisation and liberalisation on the developing economies; and consider the changing relations between the state and civil society in the developing world.

- Global Change: Toward a New Non-Western Order
Your main focus throughout this module will be on the domestic and international politics of China and India, and on empirical examples of the global change characterised by the predicted rise of these non-Western states – China and India. The aim will be to go beyond the news headlines to develop a scholarly and critical understanding of the emerging great powers. This offers you an opportunity to train in international relations and recognise, understand, and deal with the changes in the global political landscape.

- Globalisation, Democratisation and Post-Authoritarian Transition
This module investigates the nature and process of ‘transition’ in formerly authoritarian (mainly communist) countries since the beginning of the 1990s. The concept of transition will be explored in a global context, looking at different regions’ particular versions and legacies of authoritarianism. Drawing on comparative politics and international political economy, shifts in the roles of state, civil society and economy will be investigated, as will their political and governmental implications.

- Governance of the European Union
You will explore the EU as a polity and as a system of governance. The module offers a practice-led survey of governance issues in the EU, informed by relevant theoretical approaches. You will cover the legal framework of the EU and the roles of member state and institutional actors in its decision-making processes; questions of institutional efficiency, accountability and the wider legitimacy of the EU; and characterisations of the EU as a polity and as a global actor.

- International Relations: Beyond International Relations?
This module analyses the theory and the practice involved in giving international content to universal values and aspirations today. Part I analyses how two central tenets of realism have come under question: national interest and sovereignty. Part II considers the rights of the individual in the international sphere, focusing on humanitarian assistance and human rights. Part III traces the impact of new international practices to extend democracy, and Part IV analyses the recent developments in international justice and law. Part V considers whether a new global political actor is emerging – global civil society – which can overcome the international/domestic divide.

- International Relations: Theoretical Perspectives
This module charts the development of International Relations (IR) as an academic discipline, locating the dominant theoretical perspectives within their historical and political contexts. The central theme is the analysis of how a broad range of theories reflect changes in the subject of IR theory – the sovereign state. It looks at the role of theory in IR, the historical development of the discipline, and focuses on competing theories. A central aim of the module is to familiarise you with the rich debate within the discipline and allow you to make up your own mind about your choice of theories. It is therefore particularly suitable if you have no previous background in IR.

- Islam and Politics in the Middle East
You will be introduced to a variety of theoretical approaches to studying the modern Middle East, to relevant perspectives in International Relations, to selected case studies, and to various contributions to the debate from inside and outside the Arab world. You will be steered through the fields of comparative politics, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and social and political theory, developing your critical understanding of the workings of the region, and assessing the explanations given as well as providing your own explanations.

- Issues in International Politics of Resource
Global Resources (Oil, Gas and Minerals) are associated with underdeveloped, authoritarian and corrupt regimes and civil strife. Furthermore, global resources are widely seen as the new battle ground of future wars on the global, regional and local level. The module examines the international politics of resources and introduces you to the key issues in the politics of global resources and dynamics between players that have shaped it over the decades. It seeks to develop familiarity with international and domestic politics of resources as well as their political economy. It also explains why some resources-rich countries failed to develop, experienced state breakdown, even armed struggles, while others succeeded. The module aims at critically assessing the notion that resources will become a key battle ground on the global level in the next decades.

- Policy, Governance and Democracy: International Perspectives
The module explores and compares a range of approaches to analysing and evaluating governance and policy, assessing the understandings of democracy that they imply. These approaches are introduced through a range of case studies relating to policy-making in contrasting national and international contexts. You will explore the challenges of defining and delivering policy across a range of international, national and sub-national contexts, and reflect on the implications of these challenges for democracy.

- The European Union as an International Actor
You will explore the European Union’s international role: as an international trade partner; in its evolving competencies in foreign policy; in its dealings with NATO , the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and its member states over defence and security issues; in its relations with accession states and other ‘third states’; and in its self-image and values as an international actor. The module offers a practice-led survey of the EU’s external activities, informed by relevant theories.

- Theories of International Security
This module examines the contemporary discourse and debates surrounding the meaning of international security. The end of the Cold War fundamentally altered the structure of the international system and precipitated the emergence of a new security agenda. The new systemic dynamics and reconfigured security agenda led many to question the dominant theoretical frameworks previously applied to international security, and new security discourses – such as human security and critical security studies – have emerged to challenge established security theory. This module will examine the key tenets of the new theoretical frameworks and critically analyse their contribution to our understanding of ‘security’.

- The State, Politics and Violence
You will explore the main 20th and 21st century theories of the state and examine the different approaches to the phenomenon of violence and its causes. The module examines the challenges arising from globalisation and will help you to grasp the new forms of antagonisms that have evolved in the new world order emerging after the collapse of the Soviet model.

Associated careers

This course will provide you with numerous key skills and knowledge that will prepare you for your future career in a variety of different fields. Our graduates hold posts within various international and national government departments and organisations. Many have also gone on to study for Doctorates within the Department and at other universities around the world.

Visit the International Relations and Democratic Politics (MA) page on the University of Westminster website for more details!

Entry Requirements

You should have a First Class or Upper Second Class Honours degree or equivalent in Social Sciences or Humanities; equivalent qualifications from overseas are welcome. Your application must be supported by a reference written on institutional notepaper by an academic familiar with your abilities. Applications from mature candidates are welcomed.

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