IR452      Half Unit
Empire and Conflict in World Politics

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Tarak Barkawi CLM 4.07


This course is available on the MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research) and MSc in International Relations Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Many places and peoples in modern world politics have been shaped by relations and histories of imperialism. Across the social sciences and humanities, as in International Relations, there has been an explosion of interest in empire in recent decades. This course explores the violent dimensions of the imperial past and present. It covers histories and social relations of armed conflict in imperial context from “small war” to “counterinsurgency” and the War on Terror; it looks at the ways in which warfare shapes (and is shaped by) the societies, cultures and polities that populate world politics; and it considers some of the intellectual traditions that have arisen out of the experience of, and inquiry into, colonial violence, from the thought of resistance leaders to subaltern and postcolonial studies. The premise of the course is that warfare and violence have been generative forces in shaping world politics, well beyond the times and places of specific battles and killings.

This course aims to familiarise students with scholarship on empire and conflict in International Relations and related disciplines. This involves, first, understanding the limitations of the sovereign nation-state as the basic unit of world politics. For most people in most times and places, international relations have taken imperial form of one kind or another. What would it mean to take empire seriously in international thought and inquiry? The course approaches this question by looking at the relations between empire and globalization in historical and theoretical context. Second, although much scholarship on empire concerns economy and culture, the history of empire is a history of continual warfare and armed resistance. Such “small wars” have shaped society and politics in both the core and periphery of the international system, and often continue to do so long after the guns fall silent (as for example in the case of the US and the Vietnam War). The course will cover the histories, strategies and theories associated with such wars and their effects. Third and finally, the course will explore the intersection between empire and knowledge in political theory and social inquiry. Not only did anti-colonial resistance produce its own theorists, such as Frantz Fanon and Mao Zedong, but in recent decades empire has been the site of new turns in social and political theory and inquiry, as for example in subaltern studies and postcolonialism. The course will introduce students to this work and it applications to understanding world politics.


1) Introduction: Empire and International Relations

2) Empire/History/Globalization

3) Empire, the Regions, and World Politics

4) Politics/Strategy/War

5) War and Society in Global Perspective

6) Orientalism and ‘Small war’

7) Revolutionary Guerrilla War

8) Counterinsurgency

9) Conflict and Development

10) The War on Terror in North/South Perspective

MSc Seminars

The seminars will develop students’ abilities to read, digest, and critique monograph length texts. Each will be based upon a single book. Students will be expected to read the assigned book in its entirety before each seminar. Every student will be expected to come to seminar prepared to participate. There will be no individual seminar presentations. Every student is expected to speak in every seminar. Students should be prepared to comment on the main argument of each book; to place each text in a wider intellectual context, concerning for example the debates and audiences the book is speaking to; and to offer a critical assessment of the book’s contributions.

There will be some variation in the texts assigned to MSc students each year. 


10 hours of lectures and 18 hours of seminars in the MT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy. 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT.

Indicative reading

Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended (London: Penguin Books, 2004).

Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999 [1984]).

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (London: Verso, 2000).

Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1999).

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994 [1993]).

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967 [1961]).

Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Vintage, 1989).

Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Owl Books, 2007 [2006]).

Faisal Devji, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (London: Hurst, 2008).


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the LT.

Teachers' comment

This course is based on books, which students will be encouraged to buy, and has a heavy reading load. Please email Dr. Barkawi for a list of books required after 1 September, 2014.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2014/15: 13

Average class size 2014/15: 13

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills