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IR3071   Dealing in Darkness? An Anatomy of Realist Thought In International Relations

Academic year(s): 2023-2024

Key information

SCOTCAT credits : 30

ECTS credits : 15

Level : SCQF level 9

Semester: 2

Planned timetable: Tues 10am

Situated within the recent reassessment of the historiography of the field of International Relations (IR), this module is designed to trace the genealogy of realism both as a theoretical approach in IR and as an ethico-political response to the crisis of liberal modernity in the 20th century. More broadly, this module challenges the paradigmatic view of realism as a static, ahistorical theoretical approach and examines the various renditions of realist thought developed within the academic study of IR. From the continental roots of realpolitik in German thought to E. H. Carr’s peculiar realism and from Hans Morgenthau’s tragic realism, the post-war realism of Kissinger, Niebuhr and the Christian realists to the scientific realism of Kenneth Waltz and the American rationalists up to the debates on the failure of realism to predict the end of the Cold war, and the recent revival of so-called ‘classical’ forms of realist thought, this module traces the multiple genealogies of realism in their semantic, social and political contexts. The module critically evaluates the role, impact and appeal of realist thought in IR and explores its diverse and protean nature as well as its continued relevance in contemporary world politics.

Relationship to other modules

Pre-requisite(s): Before taking this module you must pass IR2006

Learning and teaching methods and delivery

Weekly contact: 1 x 1-hour lecture plus 1 x 1-hour tutorial. In order to ensure small groups for the tutorial discussions, the instructor will divide the class into multiple tutorial groups, each of which will meet each week during semester.

Assessment pattern

As used by St Andrews: 3-hour Written Examination = 40%, Coursework = 60%

Re-assessment: 3-hour Written Examination = 100%


Module coordinator: Dr V Paipais
Module teaching staff: Dr V Paipais

Intended learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the debates in twentieth century realist thought / Classify and critically interpret the different approaches to twentieth century realism
  • Identify key realist concepts and the changes in these concepts over time/Critically interrogate textbook interpretations of realism in IR
  • Analyse twentieth century realist texts and relate them to their historical, social and political contexts
  • Apply realist thought to world politics.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of realism in IR