cod. 1005945

Academic year 2016/17
1° year of course - First semester
Academic discipline
Storia delle dottrine politiche (SPS/02)
Type of training activity
54 hours
of face-to-face activities
9 credits
hub: PARMA
course unit
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Learning objectives

The course’s main objective is to provide students with a deep knowledge of the origins and the developments of IR political thought.

Knowledge and understanding
The course will provide students with a deep knowledge of authors, works and topics that have characterized the discipline’s main debates, putting them in historical perspective. At the end of the course, students will acquire the ability to critically understand IR main approaches, and to interpret events and dynamics of current international politics.

Applying knowledge and understanding.
The analysis of IR great traditions will help students to develop their own critical understanding of the events and dynamics that have shaped international politics over the last few decades, providing them with the capacity to interpret and evaluate future political scenarios.

Making judgments
At the end of the course, students will have the capacity to critically understand IR works, authors and approaches, and to put them in relations one another.

At the end of the course, students will achieve the ability to clearly communicate and critically debate the main questions of international politics, through the reference to the thought of those authors that have shaped IR research.


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Course unit content

The course will provide students with an overview of International Relations’ (IR) main theoretical approaches, paying attention also to current global political dynamics. Building on the analysis of the work of classical political thinkers (i.e. Hobbes, Machiavelli, Locke, Kant and Grotius), the course will focus on IR great traditions (realism, neorealism, liberalism, neoliberal institutionalism), and to those notions (anarchy, balance of power, hegemony), theories (the democratic peace, the capitalist peace, Game theory) and debates (the clash of civilizations) that have shaped the discipline over the last thirty years. In order to facilitate the understanding of IR theoretical models and basic concepts, each class will be introduced by the discussion of a case study taken from recent history.

Full programme

The course will last nine weeks (three weekly classes, two hours each)

First Week | Introduction

1. Course overview

2. Introduction to the study of International Politics: classic works, main questions. International relations as a field of study: an overview

3. One world, many theories: Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, basic assumptions and criticism. Why is there no international Theory?

Second Week | Political realism

4. Introduction to Realism: classical realism (Morgenthau, Niebuhr, Carr); the importance of being parsimonious; basic concepts.

5. Neorealism: anarchy and the international system; systemic explanations (Waltz); offensive (Mearsheimer) and defensive realism

6. Heterodox Realism (Aron): the systemic relevance of ideology; bipolar and multipolar systems; homogeneous and hererogeneous systems

Third Week | The balance of power

7. Balance of power (I): from classical realism to neorealism; balancing and bandwagoning; the balance of power in bipolar and multipolar systems

8. Balance of power (II): from the balance of power to the balance of threat (Walt). The historical view of George Liska.

9. Case study: the (Second) Thirty Years War (1914-1945)

Fourth Week | Hegemony, the causes of war and the decline of violence

10. Hegemony and stability: the hegemonic cycles. Causes and phases of hegemonic war. The limits of hegemony; American hegemony: the stability of a unipolar world; China as an anti-hegemonic power?

11. Domestic politics and War: democratization and war. Rational causes for war (information asymmetry, misperceptions, committment problems)

12. The decline of violence: the obsolescence of major wars, the civilization process; nuclear weapons; public opinion and wealth.

Fifth Week | Liberalism and neoliberal institutionalism

13. Introduction to liberalism: the fathers of the liberal thought. The “great illusion” of war (Angell).

14. Neoliberalism and institutionalism: the limits of war and collective security mechanisms. Utility and limits of collective security. The persistence of international institutions after the end of the cold war.

15. The problem of cooperation: security dilemma and Game Theory (Stag Hunt, Prisoner’s dilemma). The costs of cooperation. Cooperation under the security dilemma. International cooperation under anarchy

Sixth Week | Domestic causes for peace

16. The Democratic Peace research program: monadic causes of peace, Kant and his tripod (Triangulating peace)

17. The Capitalist Peace research program: critiques to the Democratic Peace. Are there other separated peaces? Wealth, development and peace.

18. Modernity and Peace: the paradigm of modernization; wealth, development and peace; the resource curse.

Seventh Week | Constructivism

19. Introduction to constructivism: describing and understanding (Weber). Constructivist assumptions: agency, social practices and structures.

20. Social Theory of International Politics: different cultures of anarchy; brutal and social facts.

21. The constructivist research program: the role of ideas and society

Eighth Week | The English School

22. The English School: Historical context and basic traits

23. The Anarchical society: Order, Justice and Institutions.

24. The international society: the expansion of the international society;Humanitarian Interventions and the Just War Tradition

Ninth Week | Towards a clash of civilizations?

25. Civilizations in conflict: Huntington’s cultural realism.

26. The strategies of terrorism: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism; the target of terrorism; how terrorism ends.

27. Jihadist terrorism: Islamic terrorism in historical perspective; current developments: from al-Qaida to the “Islamic State”.


The bibliography for the final exam includes two books and some articles in English.

The introductory volume is:

- M. Wight, Le tre tradizioni, Il Ponte editrice, 2011;M. Wight, Le tre tradizioni, Il Ponte editrice, 2011
(the book is available only in Italian. International students should contact the instructor for substitute readings)

Main volume for the exam:
- F. Andreatta (a cura di), Le grandi opere delle relazioni internazionali, Il Mulino, Bologna 2011

Other articles (available in pdf through Unipr network system or from the instructor):
1. Jack Snyder, 2004, One World, Rival Theories, Foreign Policy, nov., 52-62
2. Robert Gilpin, 1988, The Theory of Hegemonic War, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 18 (4): 591-613
3. James Fearon, 1995, Rationalist Explanations for War, International Organization, 49 (Summer): 379-414.
4. Robert Jervis, 1978, Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma, World Politics, 30 (2): 167-214
5. Eric Gartzke, 2007, The Capitalist Peace, American Journal of Political Science, 51(1): 166-191;
6. Ted Hopf, 1998, The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory, International Security, 23 (1): 171-200
7. Andrew H. Kydd and Barbara F. Walter, 2006, The strategies of terrorism, International Security 31(1): 49-80

Teaching methods

Frontal lessons, during which students will be involved on international politics’ main debates.

Assessment methods and criteria

Written exam with open-ended questions on the course’s main topics.

Other information

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