Not available in 2020/21
IR378      Half Unit
Critical War Studies

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Tarak Barkawi CBG.9.03

Tarak Barkawi is Professor in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He studies warfare between the West and the non-European world, past and present. He writes on the pivotal place of armed force in globalization, imperialism, and modernization, and on the neglected significance of war in social and political theory. He is author of Soldiers of Empire, Globalization and War and many scholarly articles.


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

War transforms the social and political orders in which we live, just as it obliterates our precious certainties. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fate of truths offered about war itself. War regularly undermines expectations, strategies and theories, and along with them the credibility of those in public life and the academy presumed to speak with authority about it. This course begins with the recognition that the unsettling character of war has been a profound opportunity for scholarship. For it is precisely in war’s disordering and unsettling of politics and identities that the socially and historically generative powers of war are exposed. In bending, stretching and even breaking institutions and societies, war reveals them to us anew and offers perspectives obscured in times of peace. At the same time, these disruptions shape and inform the course and character of war. This violent but fecund juncture between war, society and politics is what this course seeks to understand.


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

This course consists of three elements all taught in Lent: a lecture series, classes, and a film series.

This course is an advanced undergraduate option. It is a text-based course and not a survey course. That means we will concentrate on a few required readings—read carefully and in-depth. Rather than being given a list of readings for you to select from, you will be given specific, required readings that everyone must read.

For each class, you will be doing required reading of approximately half a book, sometimes less. For each lecture, you are given one recommended background reading. In planning your time, you should read first for the class and second for the lectures.

It is essential that you do the required reading for each class before class.

The lecture series provides concepts, ideas and histories—intellectual scaffolding—against which to read the course texts. It is an essential and helpful aid to your reading.

The film series, attendance at which is voluntary, provides an opportunity for sociability and the exploration of course themes in popular cultures.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

Hew Strachan, Clausewitz's On War: A Biography (New York: Grove Press, 2007)

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975)

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982)

Michael Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995)

Anders Engberg-Pedersen, Empire of Chance: The Napoleonic Wars and the Disorder of Things (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015)

Debbie Lisle, Holidays in the Danger Zone: Entanglements of War and Tourism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

Antoine Bousquet, The Scientific War of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (London: Hurst, 2009)

Susan Jeffords, The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989)

Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism 1918-1924 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)


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

The course will be 100% assessed by essay due after the end of term and based on a topic of the student's choice.Students will be given a list of questions to work from and may choose a question provided or develop their own question (based on course texts) in discussion with the course coordinator. 

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: 17

Average class size 2019/20: 18

Capped 2019/20: Yes (15)

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