As another term approaches its zenith, we at The Disorder engage in a novel public service: making available a range of our module reading lists. Ready-made bibliographies, crib-sheets, self-help guides, or just objects of curiosity, to do with as you will. We have focused on our more specialised courses, on the assumption that there is a relative dearth of taught programmes on these issues, or taught from these perspectives. Most of the readings remain inaccessible online, although there are libraries still in existence where they may be found. You will also miss out on our great personal charms. Nevertheless, enjoy.
Just click on the titles for the full PDFs. May a thousand ideas bloom!
Joe (Lecturer in International Relations, City University)
Myths and Mysteries in World Politics (co-taught with Aggie Hirst and Amin Samman): This is a ten-week course that runs in the first term and is compulsory for all our undergraduate students. The idea behind it is that we wanted to provide an introduction to “theory” that not only avoided the numerous “isms” but which also harnessed the students’ interest in politics. So, the course is organised around key ideas in politics and we push students to think philosophically about what world politics is, as well as how they are already engaged in it. We hope to develop a critical sensibility by getting students to realise how much they already know, or think they know, about world politics and then encouraging them to look more deeply – hence the “Myths and Mysteries” title. The course is structured in three parts: there’s an initial week where we talk about what “politics” means and ask students to consider their own placement in the political world (this is also the topic of their first essay), then we cover “Power”, “Ethics”, “Violence” and “Law” as big conceptual ideas before turning to a section that looks at the institutions of world politics (broadly conceived), including “Empire”, “Capitalism”, “The State”, “Money” and “History”. In the end, the primary hope is to build intellectual skills – reading, writing, thinking – and introduce them to big ideas in politics rather than indoctrinate them in disciplinary debates.
Global Ethics: Power and Principle in World Politics: This is a ten-week course that I am running this year at both the 3rd-year Undergraduate and the MA Postgraduate levels. In some ways it is a conventional course on normative IR – but I hope it bears only a family resemblance to such course. The basic premise of the course is that if we fail to understand the place of ethics in world politics than we fail to understand our subject. This failure is two-fold: first, even descriptively, the marginalisation of ethics in the study of world politics presents us with a compromised and highly politicised vision of world politics – so even for the most ardent “scientist”, not taking ethics seriously is a failing. Second, the course is a kind of argument that studying world politics without confronting the big ethical questions that it raises is scholarly and ethical failing. The course is then structured around as a slow reveal of the scope of ethics in world politics. After introducing the idea of global ethics and making the case for its place within the study of world politics the course looks to the ethics of war, including national liberation and non-violence along with conventional debates around just war and non-intervention. From looking at war we consider the ethical significance given to the community and role of violence and exclusion in this valorisation of the state. From there we turn to ideas of individualism and rights, along with the ascendence of a liberal order, and its attendant forms of violence and war-making. That makes up the first half of the course, which serves as a kind of interrogation of key ideas in world politics, and the second half turns to looking at alternative cosmopolitans and ideas of resistance, connecting that to the ambiguous place of ethical claims responding to poverty and hierarchy in the global economy, the limits of international law as a tool of justice, and the ambiguous promise of global democracy. The course finishes with a session considering how we might rethink the relationship between ethics and politics in terms of a politics of ongoing reconstruction and resistance, rather than an ethics of authority and control.
Human Rights and the Transformation of World Politics: This is a ten-week course that serves as the core module for the MA in International Politics and Human Rights that I am running. Again it starts with a central thesis, which is that we can’t properly understand contemporary world politics without understanding human rights. The course is structured in three equal parts looking at the history, philosophy and practice of human rights. Before digging into those different aspects the course begins with a session that focuses on the contestability and ambiguity of rights claims, which serves as a warning to attend to the positive and negative of human rights equally. Moving on to history, we look at the pre-history of international human rights, raising questions about the linkage of contemporary human rights to traditions of natural rights and European revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, also raising questions about the exclusions of tradition rights – such as why women were left out and why the Haitian revolution has remained illegible as a precursor to modern human rights. We then look at how international human rights were developed in the 20th century noting both the politics of their development within the UN system as well as the way dominant understandings of rights have always been challenged. We then look at the philosophies of human rights, ranging from those that seem them as paradigmatic liberal rights to those that argue that rights claims can be subversive and contradictory. The course then ends by looking at three areas where human rights have been central to political practice. First we look at human rights and torture, particularly how states have eroded this right in recent years. Second, we look at human rights and migration in the EU, questioning the notion of the EU and Europe as havens for rights when protection is denied to so many. Finally, the course ends by looking at social movements that use human rights to inform a politics of direction action to claim a human right to housing and land.
Meera (Lecturer in International Relations, SOAS)
International Theory: This ten-week course is compulsory for all students on our MSc International Politics programme who have a variety of academic backgrounds. It had previously been structured more explicitly around theoretical schools in IR – ‘isms’. The re-design began, if I’m being totally honest, because I didn’t really want to teach ‘isms’ in a sequential way, starting with realism and ending with postcolonialism and with constructivism in between etc. In the first place, I felt it would just be a little dry for those students not already inclined towards ‘theory’. Secondly, however, I did not want to organise the course around what I often think of as ‘meta-theory’ – although these questions would be relevant during the course. Rather, the arc of the course is devoted to showing students how debates about ‘theory’ are embedded in live political practice and that our use and definition of concepts has clear analytical and political implications. Each week is thus ‘headlined’ by a concept, and the readings reflect different angles on that particular concept: ‘theory’; the ‘international’; ‘empire’; ‘sovereignty’; ‘the national interest’; ‘gender’; ‘development’; ‘security’; ‘race’ ; ‘intervention’. The eagle-eyed of you will spot that paradigmatic organisation has not completely disappeared – for example we use the week on the national interest to look at realist, the week on security for constructivist writers etc. However, overall the focus is on big ideas that get casually and widely used in discussions about the international. My main hope for the course is to demonstrate that these big ideas matter, that they are contested, that they can be rigorously interrogated and that the study of ‘theory’ can equip us to do that.
Srdjan (Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa)
Concepts & Issues in International Affairs: This course will introduce you to major concepts, theories, and issues in international affairs from a perspective of the semi-autonomous academic field of International Relations (IR). The scope of this field is very broad and we will explore it by focusing on key concepts (and ways in which they sometimes hang together). This exploration will relate to a number of past and ongoing world issues, thus helping us to cover much of IR theory against its “puzzles” as well as concrete problems, major international events, and long-term global processes.
Research Methods: There are three parts to this course: Part I (“meta”) briefly covers ontological, epistemological, and methodological questions that keep philosophers and practitioners of social science awake at night, namely the nature of reality and causation, the construction and use of social science concepts, and the quantitative-qualitative-interpretative-mixed method distinctions. Part II (“quant”) begins with an overview of quantitative methods used to analyze large-N data and ends with a computer lab assignment in which students will use SPSS to do single-equation regressions. Part III (“qual”) reviews case studies, participatory work and a selection of methods for text analysis. In the final assignment, students will write produce either a 1) research design on a topic of their interest, with concentration on the research question, conceptualization, and case selection; or 2) a methodological critique of one or more studies found in this syllabus or some other mutually agreed-upon source.
American Foreign Policy: Foreign policy has been traditionally defined as the means by which a state seeks to protect & project its interests in the world. But the U.S. (a.k.a. America) is not just any state – it has been so powerful, for so long and by such large margins relative to other states that many people have described it as a superpower, hyperpower, omnipower, unipole, empire, imperium, hegemon and so on. While there are many more approaches for studying American foreign policy (historical, practical, anti-American…) in this graduate seminar we will rely on the concepts and theoretical frameworks taken from the field of International Relations (IR) to analyze both historical and contemporary themes such as democracy- and trade-promotion, military interventions, terrorism, and the environment. Ample attention will also be given to America’s changing place in the world as well as to the foreign policy roles of the White House, NSC, Congress, the military, interest groups and lobbies, the news media and mass opinion.
Canada-U.S. Relations in a Comparative Perspective: Grounded in four concepts – region, alliance, security community, and network – this course examines cultural, economic, social, and political dimensions of the Canada-United States relationship. It begins with a broad historical overview and then focuses on a selection of contemporary issues under rubrics of American decline, the Arctic, borders and perimeter security, defence and overseas military interventions, post-NAFTA trade and continental governance, as well as some migration and labour issues. Comparisons with Europe, Mexico, and other parts of the world are managed throughout the course.
Antoine (Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Birkbeck)
War, Politics and Society: War, Politics and Society aims to provide students with an advanced understanding of the role of war in the modern world. Drawing on a wide range of social sciences and historiographical sources, its focus will be on the complex interplay between national, international and global political and social relations and the theories and practices of warfare since the inception of the modern era and the ‘military revolution’ of the sixteenth century. The module will notably examine the role of war in the emergence and development of the nation-state, the industrialisation and modernisation of societies and their uses of science and technology, changing cultural attitudes to the use of armed force and martial values, and the shaping of historical consciousness and collective memory. Among the contemporary issues addressed are the ‘war on terror’, weapons of mass destruction, genocide, humanitarian intervention, and war in the global South.
Rahul (Lecturer in Politics, SOAS)
Queer Politics in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East: Queer theory purports to be ‘for’ and ‘about’ everyone. Although frequently assumed to be a branch of social and political theory preoccupied with the study of sexual minorities, the insights of theorists like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler into questions concerning the constitution of identities, subjectivities, resistance and the operation of power, have travelled widely, informing scholarship in a host of ostensibly unrelated terrains. Yet like many other kinds of theory, queer theory has been Eurocentric and has only recently begun to engage seriously with the world outside the North Atlantic. Does such engagement threaten to replicate European colonisation of the rest of the world? Conversely, how can such engagement unsettle the received wisdom in queer theory? This course is intended to provide both an introduction to queer theory, as well as to engage with the question of its relevance in contemporary Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As non-normative sexual identities have become ever more visible in these parts of the world, the politics of sexuality has become freighted with apparently unrelated baggage. LGBT rights have recently become a centrepiece of Western human rights diplomacy as well as a major priority for UN human rights advocacy. Conversely, conversations about LGBT rights have become a major point of tension between Western and non-Western states. In some discourses, acceptance of LGBT rights has become a new signifier of the old divide between the civilised and the savage. Tensions have emerged within LGBT movements between purveyors of such orientalist tropes and their radical critics invested in a politics of intersectionality implicating sex, race, class, nation and other forms of subjectivity. This course will use struggles for sexual self-determination as a prism through which to consider broader questions about the constitution of modernity, the proliferation of identities, rights and claims for justice, the consolidation and deconstruction of postcolonial national identities, and the aspirations and anxieties of postcolonial elites. These questions will be studied contextually, with topics in many weeks focusing on a single area case study, or a comparison of two or more country-contexts.
Wanda (Humbolt University, Berlin)
Movements and Concepts in the New Left is an MA-level reading seminar reviewing social movements, theories, and key debates on the Left from 68 to the present. Originally called “Crisis & Collapse” and written on the eve of Occupy, the course sought to contrast standard Marxist theories of economic crisis with deep ecology/de-growth/ecofeminism/anarchist understandings of crisis as rooted in a larger problem with modernity (scientific rationality, bureaucratism, militarism, cultural domination). Whereas the former assumes the crisis of capital can be overcome while retaining the modern form (the Party, central planning, productivism), the latter calls for a deeper reorientation of our values and priorities, essentially a revolution of everyday life. After teaching the class once, though, I found this framework somewhat limiting and began tracing its genealogy to older rifts on the Left dating back to 1968. The seminar thus developed into a survey of the many minor Lefts developed since 1968 (Autonomia, anti-nuclear movement, alter-globalization, Occupy), their theories, strategies, and traces left upon our culture of resistance.
The International in US Politics is an MA-level introductory course to IR theories, prepared for the JFK Institute of American Studies at the Freie University in Berlin. Because of the specific of the school, I wanted to design an IR course tailored to the students’ area of interest – the US. As such, the seminar was organized around the assumption that, with the US, we are dealing with a clear and important instance of a state far exceeding its territorial boundaries. After surveying some key upper-level IR debates surrounding sovereignty, territoriality and imperialism in an age of “globalization,” we proceeded to investigate America’s exceptional role in these. Where is the US located? Where can we find traces of the United States across the globe? This was the question that guided us through various core areas of the discipline, such as political economy, security, migration, development and cultural policy. This gave the students a taste of what IR is all about as a discipline and it allowed them to analyze the exceptional role the US plays in all of these. Looking at the syllabus again, one key thing I missed was a discussion of IR as an American discipline through and through.
Contradictions of Modern Work is the MA reading seminar I am currently teaching at the Humboldt. It comes out of a long-standing interest (fascination!) I have in work and is an expanded version of an earlier course I taught called “Work in Neoliberal Times.” The first version focused on transformations of labor and labor relations in post-Fordist capitalism, and it was mostly influenced by Autonomist readings of the profoundly ambivalent/immanent character of neoliberalism, as containing the reality of heightened exploitation and a renewed potential for emancipation. This second version of the course vastly expands those themes. It starts out by investigating the origins of modern work as a commodity removed from the workers themselves and exchanged on the free market. It then goes on to trace the advances and the violences involved in this commodification of labor and its subsumption to the wage-form, from the rise of the working class as a legitimate force in society, with its own organizations and culture, to its ultimate defeat in recent decades. This transformation is viewed both in terms of neoliberal economic reforms and technological innovation, without which the transfer of wealth and power from workers to owners could never have been possible. The seminar ends on an exploratory/utopian note, asking students to consider what remains of the classic notion of “wage-labor” in our present mode of accumulation and valorization, and how work could be rethought, reorganized and revalued to speak to our present challenges and desires for a different world. Most of the readings are available online.
More next term.