What is International Relations?
The academic study of International Relations is probably partly what you might expect, but also quite a bit of what you might not expect too. For many people, their idea of international relations is dominated by the great questions of war and peace. States are the major actors, power is the key resource and the quest for security is the dominant dynamic. This is certainly a major strand in the subject, and you will study these questions in the degree at Durham University.
However, international relations is far more than this. It possesses a rich, diverse and highly contested tradition of theoretical debate that both connects with and is distinctive from the wider tradition of theorising politics. Much of this debate draws on international history and the historical development of international relations is an important source of information and insight into how and why the world is the way that it is today. It also provides perspective on one of the central political questions of the day – are we living through an era of fundamental change in the way we understand the world and the way that the world operates? Or is international relations more about recurrence and repetition – an almost eternal struggle for power in which balances shift and states rise and fall, but the nature of politics endures?
Many of these changes are highlighting the role of global structures and systems and international relations has strong connections into the world of political economy, with the development of powerful non-state economic actors, such as trans-national corporations, globalised markets and international regulatory bodies like the World Trade Organisation highlighting that there is more to the subject that states and the pursuit of security – wealth, trade, investment and development are also key questions to study.
The distinctiveness of the world’s regions, and the growing importance of regional organisations and perspectives is also an important dynamic that the programme picks up on. This includes formal regional organisations, like the EU or the Arab League, but also the development of regional economies and regionally focused security issues. Global level institutions like the UN and also global frameworks like international law and ideas of global ethics come into play, too.
Therefore, international relations is a subject that is far more than might meet the eye. It is intellectually rigorous and theoretically demanding, historically informed and economically literate, it is about far more than the events of the moment and offers an endlessly fascinating array of ways of examining, theorising, analysing and assessing the politics of the world that we all have to share.
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