Not available in 2022/23
IR319      Half Unit
Empire and Conflict in World Politics

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Tarak Barkawi CBG.9.03


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 not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

Course content

This is a course about war and empire. Many peoples and places in the world have been shaped by imperialism. This course explores some of the violent dimensions of the imperial past and present. It imagines world politics as a space of co-constitution and war or violent conflict as a form of social interconnection. The course considers armed conflict in imperial context from colonial “small war” through to the War on Terror. It looks at how warfare shapes (and is shaped by) the societies, cultures and polities that populate world politics. It also 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 imperial warfare and violence have been generative forces in shaping world politics, well beyond the times and places of specific battles and killings.

This course familiarises students with some themes from scholarship on empire and conflict in the social sciences and humanities. 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 globalisation 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 post-colonialism. The course will introduce students to this work and it applications to understanding world politics.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.


1) Introduction: Empire and International Relations

2) Empire/History/Globalization

3) Empire, the Regions, and World Politics

4) Politics/Strategy/War

5) Decolonising War

6) Orientalism and ‘Small war’

7) Revolutionary Guerrilla War

8) Counterinsurgency

9) Empire after 1945

10) The War on Terror and the Colonial Present

Undergraduate Class Topics

1) Empire and History

2) Orientalism

3) The Politics of Imperial War

4) War and Society

5) The Global Colour Line

6) Empire and the United Nations

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 LT.

Indicative reading

Note: Required texts for this course change every year


  1. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 2001 [1961]).
  2. Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999 [1984])
  3. Doty, Roxanne Lynn. (1996) Imperial Encounters: The Politics of Representation in North-South Relations. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  4. Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
  5. Michel Rolph-Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon, 2015 [1995])
  6. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994 [1993]).7.
  7. Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009)
  8. Wolf, Eric R. (1997[1982]) Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 36.8
2:1 51.5
2:2 8.8
Third 2.9
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2021/22: 20

Average class size 2021/22: 20

Capped 2021/22: Yes (15)

Lecture capture used 2021/22: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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