KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

International Relations and Contemporary War 1: Theories and Concepts (Module)

Module description

  • Induction and Orientation module
  • If studying War in the Modern World you must also complete History of Contemporary Warfare 1: the early Cold War, 1945–1975 and History of Contemporary Warfare 2: from Cold War to War on Terror, 1975-2011.
  • If studying International Relations and Contemporary War, you must also complete International Relations and Contemporary War 1: Theories and Concepts and International Relations and Contemporary War 2: Problems and Issues.

Study units

  • Realism and the Security Dilemma
  • Liberalism, Security Regimes and the Liberal Peace
  • Constructivism, Security Cultures, Identities and Norms
  • Marxism, Critical Theory and Critical Security Studies
  • Causes of War and Conditions for Peace


This is the first of two core modules for the MA International Relations and Contemporary War programme. Its aim is to introduce you to the main theories and concepts in the disciplines of International Relations and War/Security and Peace/Conflict Studies and how they apply to the analysis of contemporary war. The organisation of the module follows the historical trajectory of the discipline of international relations and its theoretical development, focusing in particular on how each school of thought thinks theoretically about war and peace.

We begin with the dominant theoretical approaches of Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism and analyse each in relation to the security culture it favours: Realists are concerned with the balance of power and security dilemmas, Liberals with security regimes and the Liberal Democratic Peace, and Constructivists with security cultures, identity and norms. The three dominant paradigms share ontological and epistemological assumptions that make it possible to study the debates between as well as within them.

In unit 4, we take a different turn and consider a range of alternative (so-called post-modern and/or post-structuralist) approaches, grouped together under the heading Marxism, Critical Theory and Critical Security Studies. We end by synthesising approaches to questions of war and peace in International Relations Theory with key theories and concepts in War/Security and Peace/Conflict studies about the causes, conduct and character of contemporary war. 

*Please note that module information is indicative and may change from year to year.

Staff information

Not applicable

Teaching pattern

One-term course, 1 x 11 weeks

Module assessment - more information

All War Studies Online modules are 20-credit modules and will be assessed by:

  • 1 x 1500-word short essay
  • 1 x 3000-word long essay
  • In addition you will be assessed on participation within the discussions

Key information

Module code 7SSWM221

Credit level 7

Assessment coursework

Credit value 20 credits

Semester Semester 1 (autumn)

Study abroad module No