Not available in 2022/23
IR452      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 CEMS Exchange, MBA Exchange, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Gender, Peace and Security, MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in International Relations (Research). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All students are required to obtain permission from the Teacher Responsible by completing the online application on LSE for You. Admission is not guaranteed.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access) and demand is typically high.

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. The course considers also 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.


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.


Note: The required texts for this course change every year.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online lectures and in-person classes/classes delivered online. 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 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

  • 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]).
  • Lisa Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016)
  • Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization and the Future of the World (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015)
  • 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 ST.

Student performance results

(2018/19 - 2020/21 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 35.8
Merit 50.7
Pass 11.9
Fail 1.5

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2021/22: 19

Average class size 2021/22: 19

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

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