What is International Relations?
International Relations or International Studies is a branch of Political Science which looks at the relations and interaction between states. As a field of study it only emerged at the beginning of the 20th Century primarily in the West but is constantly growing as an academic subject. This is because as our world becomes more globalized and more interdependent we strive to solve the problems that this creates such as terrorism, ethnic conflict or combatting climate change. Not only is the study of International Relations about global problems but it has everyday relevance for every one of us because it decides how resources are distributed, how much power people hold and whether people live a free life safe from violence.
As a student of International Relations you will develop a critical understanding of Political Theory and learn to apply these theories to the current world system. You will do this by looking at different theorists and concepts of, for example, equality and justice. You will study comparative politics; developing your understanding of particular regions and the development of their own political systems. You will study in depth key components and events in today’s world politics and analyse the problems that today’s world order faces. In many ways the study of International Relations is inter-disciplinary in that it touches on elements of history, law, geography, economics and philosophy.
I certainly found that my International Relations degree at Nottingham to be much more inter-disciplinary than I was expecting. I’ve just completed my First Year in which I had a compulsory module in History. Furthermore I had compulsory modules in Political Theory in which I had a seminar each week. I found these difficult to begin with as they comprised of much philosophical debate that I had never done before. However, it was a great learning opportunity and my seminar group grew to engage in some increasingly interesting discussions throughout the year. Having completed these modules I now have more freedom of choice in the Second Year where I will study more International Relations based modules such as ‘International Security’ and 'International Political Economy'. My degree also allows me to take 20 credits outside of the school and I chose to use these in the Language Centre where I studied Spanish at a basic level. This was a great opportunity because my course requires that I take one year of my course abroad and I now hope to study in Mexico during my Third Year.
Modules may cover
- History of Political Thought
- Globalisation of World Politics
- History of World Politics
- Global Security
- Theories of World Politics
- International Relations Theory
- European Politics
- Global Politics
- International Political Economy
In First Year you may find yourself with many compulsory modules that are not that dissimilar to those of a Politics Student covering Political Theory, Comparative Politics as well as International Relations. However, once these bases of political understanding have been established there will be more of an opportunity to specialize in one’s own area of interest into the Second and Third Years.
Assessment varies between universities but generally a student completes coursework essays throughout the year as well as sitting exams either at the end of each semester or at the end of the year. Some universities will also assess through projects and oral presentations. Many students of International Relations are either required or have the option of doing a dissertation in their final year.
Entry Requirements and Suitability
In general no specific subjects are required to apply for International Relations although certain universities may give preference to students who have taken social science or humanities subjects at A-Level. Although many students of International Relations have taken Politics A-Level I personally had not and did not feel that this put me at any particular disadvantage. A genuine enthusiasm in the subject is the most important requirement with an interest in keeping up to date with current affairs, and an ability to think independently and engage in Political debates.
Common joint degree subjects
International Relations degrees vary between universities so it is important to do lots of research in order to find one that is suited to your interests. For example some are ‘Politics and International Relations’ degrees requiring you to take more credits in Political Theory and Comparative Politics modules. Personally my degree is defined as ‘International Relations and Global Issues’ with a wide range of modules available to study in the 3rd and 4th years such as ‘War, Disaster and Psychology ‘ or ‘The Environment: Policy and Practise’.
Some universities offer International Relations as a joint honours degree with for example Politics, History, Philosophy, History or Economics. It is most commonly combined with a language offering a year abroad in that country, although some universities also offer a year abroad either in Industry or in a university abroad.
This guide was written by
Sally Tuson who studies International Relations and Global Issues (Msci) at the University of Nottingham