Review of PS4882I – Topics in IR: International Society

For other module reviews, please click here.

(Alternate Title: PS4882I – A WHOLE NEW WORLLLLLLLLDhhhshit)


I had intended to clear one 4k module in Y3S2 but couldn’t take The Study of War (a module I had been interested in before I even matriculated) due to CF commitments on Thursday night. This was one of those modules that I didn’t know very much about, but somehow it fit the bill, so I just joined the module in Week 2 and hoped for the best.

What I expected

The module talked about the English School of IR – which had only been covered in brief throughout my other PS IR modules like Intro to IR – so I assumed it would talk a bit about Bull and his much-vaunted ‘International Society’ theory.

What I got

A shitload lot about the English School. It’s a surprisingly deep field of research that for the most part has been ignored by many IR modules – mainly because they tend to focus on the practical aspects of theories taught by the American School’s triad of realism, liberalism and constructivism. The ES’s focus itself tends to be on theorizing and understanding specific areas that are often taken for granted in American theories (distinguishing between primary and secondary institutions, for example, or considering whether international society coexists beside, in tension with or as a precursor to world society), and for that reason the amount of content dumped on one feels like what they get over three to four module’s worth. It can be quite abstract at times though (telic practices, anyone?), so one should adopt a “Pol Theory” as opposed to “IR” mindset when trying to understand ideas/theories from this module.

I took this module under Prof Elaine who’s thoughtful and approachable as usual. Having done two previous modules under her (both African modules), it was a great help having someone whom I was familiar with teaching the module since it helps one understand how and why the module is taught in a particular manner. That, combined with helpful and friendly classmates, made this module a fairly fun experience even if the subject matter seemed quite fluffy or difficult to understand at times.

[Webcasted?] Nope.

[Course Materials?] All PDF readings, yay for saving money!

Assessment & Workload

One is assessed as follows:

  1. Review paper: 20%. A short essay of about 2k words, one had to review any book chapter or journal article assigned from weeks 2-6. Not that difficult to write per se, but it was probably the first time I’ve written something like this. Although it felt like writing a movie review at times, it’s actually intended to help one in their later research essay/term paper because, having analyzed an issue in some depth, one can use their initial research for this essay to write a better research essay.
  2. Term paper/Research essay: 30%. At a soft cap of 3.5k words (+-10%) with a short 150 words abstract, this took a bit more time to plan and write out. Moreover, there’s an essay workshop scheduled for two seminar sessions where one has to present their paper to their classmates, offer constructive criticism and praise for another paper and in turn have someone review their paper. It’s quite fun if one thinks of it as a mock academic conference, but those who are in the habit of writing their papers early and not touching them after they’re done may not appreciate having to change other parts so late in the semester.
  3. Seminar Participation: 20%. Both attendance and active participation are counted for this section. Not too difficult if one has done the readings – seeing that most of one’s classmates would also have done it, it does make for good fun discussion.
  4. Take home finals: 30%. One’s given exactly 48 hours during Reading Week to work on a short essay (about 1.2k words) on a particular question related to the module’s content as a whole. Fairly stressful (since one was well aware that any time spent sleeping would mean time not planning/writing the answer) given the higher expectations as opposed to an in-class finals, but a good way to get one’s mind working before finals week actually began.

The workload is moderate to slightly high – about 120-150 pages a week. Some weeks the readings will be quite dry and difficult to grasp, while at other weeks it’s fascinating and not a chore at all. Perhaps an hour to an hour and a half each week would be sufficient.

Expected Grade

I had received a B+ for my review paper, so I expected approximately a B+ or A- since I wasn’t sure how my research essay would fare.

Actual Grade

Thankfully I received an A for my research essay and I suppose my finals and seminar participation was sufficient to sustain that grade for the rest of the module. Certainly wasn’t easy pulling up from a B+ to an A but by there, by the grace of God, went I.

Conclusion & Tips

I’d recommend this module for those interested in an under-explored section of IR theory. The average layperson might not know much about politics or international relations; in the Trump era, heightened consciousness may lead some to read about the American School and realist-dominated theories of geopolitics, but few, if any, have heard of the English School’s contributions to the literature or even know of its existence. It’s a pity too – it has much to offer, but unfortunately is under-represented in terms of content taught. That said, the amount of content in this module clearly befits a 4k module, so those looking for a challenge after taking IS will not be disappointed by the rigor of this module.

  1. Do the readings and make full use of the 2.5 hour long seminars to clarify what one doesn’t know – abstract theory often has many practical implications and what seems obtuse at first glance may be more readily understood with the help of many minds. It seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating.
  2. When starting on your research essay, do make the most of existing literature – particularly the recommended readings suggested in the syllabus. It saves you from covering ground already covered by the Prof (since it’s definitely relevant to that topic) and often gels well with the mandatory readings.
  3. Approaching this module with a positive attitude would also help, even if it’s not the first module one wanted.

No materials to preview unfortunately 😦

Here are some of my personal notes though ^^


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s