If I could teach anything in an IR theory graduate seminar …

I have the distinct privilege of being allowed to teach under a course number the University of Florida has – INR 6208 – “Advanced IR theory” – for which there is no set curriculum. When I took this course number more than a year ago, I imagined I would teach it much like the class that I took under the same name from Hayward Alker in the Fall of 2001 at the University of Southern California. Hayward used it to historicize, contextualize, and re-read a number of IR paradigms. For example, we read Thucydides, then interpretations of Thucydides which questioned its mapping onto realist IR. We read Locke, then interpretations of Locke which complicated its availability to liberal IR. Much of the reading on the syllabus was from the humanities, relating humanistic thinking to IR. It was in that class that I felt like I found a voice about the complexity and contextualization of IR theory – and I’d always thought I’d teach Hayward’s class someday.

When the time came to make the syllabus, though, I surprised even myself by going pretty significantly the other way – perhaps still in the spirit of Hayward’s class but in a different direction in terms of the substantive content. I picked looking at IR theory now. Like, this decade. The idea is to see what interesting theory work is going on, and how (if?) it matters to conceptualizing (current) disciplinary histories. Rather than Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Locke – I decided I wanted my students Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Naeem Inayatullah, Michael Horowitz, Dan Levine, and Lauren Wilcox – among others. This is what I’m thinking of, in terms of the course: 

Advanced International Relations Theory is a course designed to engage international relations theory at a deeper level that introductory or subfield courses are able to, and in a more rigorous dialogue that is otherwise available to graduate students. This course number does not have a set curriculum. I’ve elected to make it a course about the cutting edges of current IR theory. Everything on this syllabus was published this decade, if it is published. It covers the range of the spectrum of IR theories – from realist to post-colonialist – yet none of the work fits comfortably into any of the theory ‘boxes’ into which we have often been taught to corral our thoughts. The course is meant to bring each reading into argument and debate individually, and then engage them with each other.

Is IR theory over? Is this the fourth debate? The fifth one? Is IR an art or a science? Is it ‘political science’ or ‘international studies’? What are its appropriate politics, epistemologies, methodologies, and/or methods? Many of these books are the authors’ (considered, often decades-old) answers to questions that keep plaguing the discipline – and I hope engaging them will help us find our own answers. Or at least our own questions.

I am coupling that blurb with a participation-centered grade, with the explanation that: “it is expected that you bring to the table each week at least one thing you have read that is not on the syllabus but that dialogues with the reading, so that you can tell the class about it and how it intervenes in the reading.”

So then, the question to me became, what is “going on now” in IR theory? This is what I see in the syllabus so far (in alphabetical order by author):

My inner publishing-metric-nerd suggests that there are some interesting things about this group: Routledge is the most-represented publisher (when there’s a strong bias towards university presses in professional rewards); three of the ten books are edited volumes (when there’s a strong bias against doing edited volumes because there’s a perception no one reads them); liberal IR theory is underrepresented in my ‘sweep of what I find interesting’ though I didn’t mean for it to be; and many of these books defy easy categorization in IR paradigms.

I think those things are interesting – but my reason for posting this is more to ask for feedback – what do you think of this group? While the diversity is intentional, are there things that I have left out or things that I have included that perhaps don’t merit it? What would you add, or subtract, and why?


  • Hi Laura, this sounds like an awesome course. I can’t think of what I’d subtract (because I’m guilty of not having read several things on there!) but perhaps I might add the Millennium special issue that responds to Patrick Jackson’s book http://millenniumjournal.org/2013/01/18/vol-41-issue-2-now-available/ Especially Christine Sylvester’s article which challenges Jackson’s category of reflexivity.

    I’d also suggest Stephen Chan’s 2010 article ‘On the Pain of Susan Sontag’. It highlights the challenges of Sontag’s thinking for IR and I’d be tempted to add it to the list because as an undergrad student it left me feeling quite troubled about my ability to say anything about global politics. Questions like ‘who are we to write about the world in conflict? How dare we?’ are things most students and scholars need to think about and Chan’s article is a thought-provoking easily readable piece. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13600826.2010.485559#tabModule

    And finally, I guess if you’re going with a published this decade rule then it doesn’t work, but Roland Bleiker’s 1997 ‘Forget IR Theory’ piece might be worth a look http://www.jstor.org/stable/40644880?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents