IR319      Half Unit
Empire and Conflict in World Politics

This information is for the 2014/15 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Tarak Barkawi STC 576


This course is compulsory on the BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available on the BSc in International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students must have completed International Political Theory (IR200).

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.


10 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of classes in the MT.


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

Undergraduate Class Topics

1) Globalization and History

2) Empire and the Making of Regions

3) War and Politics

4) War and Society

5) Orientalism

6) Revolutionary Guerrilla War

7) Counterinsurgency

8) Case Study: The Wars in Vietnam

9) Empire and the War on Terror

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

Tarak Barkawi ‘Empire and Order in International Relations and Security Studies’, in Denemark, Robert A, ed., The International Studies Encyclopedia, Blackwell Publishing, Blackwell reference online; The International Studies Encylopedia, Vol. III (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 1360-1379.

Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Doty, Roxanne Lynn. (1996) Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).

A.G. Hopkins, ed., Globalization in World History (London: Pimlico, 2002).

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

Mao Tse-Tung. (2000[1937]) On Guerrilla Warfare. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Williams, William Appleman. (1972[1959]) The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. New York: Dell.

Wolf, Eric R. (1997[1982]) Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2013/14: Unavailable

Average class size 2013/14: Unavailable

Capped 2013/14: No

Lecture capture used 2013/14: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

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