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(Alternate title: PS2237 – Introduction to Why Wars Occur and Other Sub-State Conflicts)
Having taken an IR module in my first semester without knowing the key theories of IR, things went by quite fast. Although that module gave me a crash course in the three frameworks (realism, liberalism and constructivism), I felt that I needed a module to properly go through each in greater detail than was afforded in PS2238, and this module seemed just the right one for that purpose.
What I expected
Given that I had already learned about realism, liberalism and constructivism, I expected to learn more about these. They are, after all, the current ideological frameworks used to understand contemporary international relations.
What I got
A bit of world history (major wars) along with theories of how each war came about based on deep, contributing and precipitating causes (or first level, second level and third level analyses). Mainstream and variants of IR theories such as defensive, offensive neorealism, offense-defense theory and hegemonic stability theory are also taught, with a good and comprehensive explanation being devoted to how constructivism is a relevant framework and what the strengths and weaknesses of all three theories currently are.
Following the recess week, topics such as nuclear deterrence, transnational terrorism, civil wars and international law and economics (including political economy) are all elaborated upon at varying depths. Quite interesting since it gives one a good idea of how far the tentacles of international relations can reach.
My tutor was Amit, who facilitated classroom discussion quite well, and the lecturer was Dr. Soul, who dishes out lectures in a style that I quite like. Streamlined and concise, the key points are given within clean slides and he is clear about what is important and what is just supporting knowledge but not that critical for the exam. He also sets aside about 10 minutes after each lecture for discussion within the lecture on a couple of questions related to what has just been discussed, which is a development I’d like to see replicated in other lectures if it is pragmatic to do so. Most discussions were lively since the talkative ones in a lecture hall used the opportunity to, well, talk, so there was little (if none) of the awkward silences that sometimes characterizes tutorial discussions in some modules.
Webcasting, if I remember correctly, was not done for this module.
[Course Materials?] Slides and textbook readings. Textbook (International Politics – Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, 12th Edition by Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis) was used.
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Tutorial and online forum participation. Forum participation is much the same as that of JS1101E, where citations and relevant contributions are expected and rewarded.
- Term Paper, due for submission sometime in Week 9 shortly after Recess Week. A challenging issue is that one can only cite from either the readings provided or the lectures given, not from any outside sources. Given that most tend to Google journal articles for their examples when writing an essay
cough cough, it takes a bit of getting used to to write from a limited range of evidence.
- Semester Finals. Consists of medium length and long essay questions, a bit of a rush within two hours but questions are sufficiently general that one has ample room to argue for or against a particular paradigm’s relevance.
The workload for the module consists mostly of weekly lecture readings, which should take up about 1.5 to 2 hours. Although not very long, they are slightly deep and one goes through three to four readings per week, leading to more time spent reading than, well, writing essays. Tutorial preparation ranges from fifteen minutes to an hour depending on what topics are discussed, but generally is not much of an issue. Online participation follows the same advice given for JS1101E: Do it on a consistent basis, not leaving it until the last few weeks to churn out a few posts.
I got a B+ for my term paper due to not elaborating sufficiently on a couple of issues raised (one has to choose two or all three issues covered after recess week and write about how relevant a particular theory is to these issues), which unfortunately came about because I was trying to adhere to the wordcount. So I was expecting either a B+ or a drop down to a B if I didn’t do well for the finals.
Quite surprisingly, I got an A-. I’m not sure what happened, but maybe tutorial/forum participation pulled my grade up. Or maybe it was the finals, it’s hard to tell.
Conclusion & Tips
Similar to PS2234, this module is a great module for those seeking to get an idea of what the field of International Relations encompasses. Although it touches on a great variety of topics in brief, it shows how relevant IR is to many world problems and goes both backwards in history and forwards to examine how the past can be used to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. I’d recommend it for those wondering whether IR is the field they want to learn more about in: It’ll be much easier for you to make a decision after taking this module. Dr. Soul also does a few movie screenings outside of lecture time, which are both relevant to the course material and can be a nice way to take a break sometimes if one attends with friends.
- Read and understand the readings so well that you can, well, cite them. They’re not just stuff you can skim through, since you’ll be basing both your term paper and finals evidence citations from them, you need to be able to know them like the back of your hand. If you’ve taken previous IR mods then most of the famous readings will be familiar, but others that cover newer themes will still need work.
- Tutorial participation isn’t too difficult if one preps a bit before the tutorial and readings through what topics are going to be covered. Most of the class is more than happy to let someone else talk (at least, in my experience), so go in and contribute a few (don’t spam, give others a chance too) well reasoned ideas and it’ll be fine.