Not available in 2020/21
IR321      Half Unit
Revolutions and World Politics

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr George Lawson CBG.9.12


This course is available on the BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and Chinese, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and 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.

Course content

Revolutions are often considered to be a ‘side order’ to the ‘main course’ of International Relations. But as this course explores, the lack of attention paid to revolutions is a mistake – revolutions have played a major part in the making of modern international order. From the ‘Atlantic Revolutions’ of the late 18th and early 19th centuries to the ‘colour revolutions’ of the early 21st century, revolutions have been constitutive of notions of sovereignty, order, justice, and more. Revolutions have also been tightly bound up with dynamics of war and peace. This course explores both the theory and practice of revolutions, teasing out their effects and examining the prospects for revolutionary change in the contemporary world.

List of Topics

Part 1   Thinking about revolutions

Week 1   What are revolutions?

Week 2  Key themes in the study of revolutions

Week 3   Revolutions and world politics

Part 2   The experience of revolution

Week 4  The Atlantic ‘age of revolutions’

Week 5  Socialist revolutions

(Week 6  Reading week – session on the assessed essay)

Week 7  ‘Third World’ revolutions

Week 8  The ‘last great revolution’?

Week 9  ‘Colour’ revolutions

Part 3   Revolution today

Week 10  The Arab uprisings

Week 11  Rethinking revolution


10 hours of lectures, 15 hours of classes and 4 hours of workshops in the MT.

The main aim of the course is to provide an opportunity for students to make informed judgments about how and in what ways revolutions have impacted on core features of modern international order. Additional aims include assessment of the place of revolution in the contemporary world and, more generally, the ability to connect theoretical arguments about revolutions with the substantive experience of revolutions.

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

Formative coursework

Students will produce 1 x 1,500 word essay in week 8 of MT.

Students will also submit a 2-3 page outline of the assessed essay in Week 10, receiving comments and feedback in Week 11.

Indicative reading

  • Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow and Charles Tilly (2001) Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • John Foran (2005) Taking Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • John Foran, David Lane and Andreja Zivkovic eds. (2008) Revolution in the Making of the Modern World (London: Routledge).
  • Jack Goldstone (2014) Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
  • Jeff Goodwin (2001) No Other Way Out (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Fred Halliday (1999) Revolutions and World Politics (London: Palgrave). 
  • Charles Kurzman (2008) Democracy Denied (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
  • Daniel Ritter (2015) Unarmed Revolutions (Oxford: Oxford University Press). 
  • Eric Selbin (2010) Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance (London: Zed).
  • Theda Skocpol (1979) States and Social Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). 


Essay (70%, 3000 words), presentation (10%) and coursework (20%) in the MT.

The 20% coursework will be 10 x weekly blog posts of 200 words each.

The 10% presentation will be a group presentation.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 33.3
2:1 60.4
2:2 2.1
Third 0
Fail 4.2

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2019/20: 18

Average class size 2019/20: 18

Capped 2019/20: Yes (18)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication