Not available in 2022/23
IR478      Half Unit
Critical War Studies

This information is for the 2022/23 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 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 Student Statement box on the online application form linked to course selection on LSE for You. Admission is not guaranteed

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.


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

This course consists of ten lectures, nine seminars and eight film evenings.It is primarily a book-based graduate seminar.

The lecture series provides concepts, ideas and histories - intellectual scaffolding - against which to read the course books.

Each of the nine seminars for this course will be based upon a single book. The seminars will develop students’ abilities to read, digest, and critique monograph length texts. 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.

The optional film series provides an opportunity for sociability and the exploration of course themes in popular cultures. Films are an important way in which war has shaped modern culture.The course coordinator will briefly introduce each film and a short discussion will follow the screening.

Formative coursework

To help them prepare for their summative essay, students will write two 2000 word book reviews of seminar books of their choosing. 

Indicative reading

Note: required texts change every year

1. Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War (New York: Grove Press, 2007)

2. Michel Foucault, Society Must be Defended (London: Penguin, 2004)

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

4. Helen M. Kinsella, The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction between Combatant and Civilian (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011)

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

6. Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and Remaking of Global Order (London: Allen Lane, 2014)

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

8. Hugh Gusterson, Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)

9. Banu Bargu, Starve and Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014)


Essay (100%, 5000 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. 

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Controlled access 2021/22: No

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