IR462      Half Unit
Theory of International Society

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Peter Wilson


This course is available on the MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is available with permission as an outside option to students of other programmes where regulations permit.

All students are required to obtain permission from the Teacher Responsible by completing the online application form linked to course selection 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.


A good knowledge of international history since 1870. Familiarity with the main theories of international relations.

Course content

The English School (ES) is an approach to International Relations (IR) that posits that the relationships between states and other significant actors take place in a social setting. This social setting consists of a complex web of rules, principles, practices, and institutions, the identification and analysis of which is a necessary first step to the understanding of ‘how things work’ internationally. As an approach to IR the ES has been influenced by classical Realism and shares common ground with Constructivism and liberal approaches such as Regime Theory. But it continues to set out a distinctive position, both methodologically and substantively, defining itself against these and other approaches. It has its roots in the teaching of C. A. W. Manning at LSE in the 1930s and 1940s and his explorations of the concept of international society. Later scholars traced its roots further back in time in the classical political thought of Grotius, Suarez, Gentili, Vattel and other notable jurists and politico-legal theorists of early-modern Europe. It began to take shape through the work of the British Committee on International Theory in the 1950s and 1960s and acquired international standing in the decades that followed through the widely cited and influential writings of Martin Wight and Hedley Bull. Today it is a body of theory with a growing number of adherents across the world, a strong presence at international conferences, and a steady output of scholarly publications.

Course content includes: the nature of international society; the bases of international order; the institutional structure of international society; the expansion of international society; the eurocentrism of international society; pluralism vs. solidarism; inequality, legitimacy and justice; the diplomatic and political challenges of human rights, WMD proliferation, and global heating.


20 hours of seminars in the WT.

The first and last seminar will consist of a lecture by the course convenor followed by Q&A. 

Formative coursework

Students will be required to submit 1 x 2,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (Macmillan, 1977)

Barry Buzan, An Introduction to the English School of International Relations (Polity, 2014)

Ian Clark, Legitimacy in International Society (OUP, 2006)

Ian Clark, Hegemony in International Society (OUP, 2011)

Robert Falkner, Environmentalism and Global International Society (CUP, 2021)

Andrew Hurrell, On Global Order: Power, Values and the Constitution of International Society (OUP, 2007)

Tonny Brems Knudsen and Cornelia Navari (eds.), International Organization in the Anarchical Society (Palgrave, 2019)

Richard Little and John Williams, The Anarchical Society in a Globalized World (Palgrave, 2006)

Cornelia Navari (ed.), Theorising International Society (Palgrave, 2009)

Cornelia Navari (ed.), International Society: The English School (Palgrave, 2021)

R. J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (CUP, 1986)

Adam Watson, Hegemony and History (Routledge, 2007)


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the ST.


Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

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