International political theories
Choose an international relations topic and write a research essay to answer a question regarding the topic. While class readings may provide an entry into some of the
essay topics, this assignment requires you to do additional research to write your essay. Your paper
must cite at least four scholarly sources (books, book chapters, or academic articles) in addition to any
class readings you may use. Of course, you are also free to use any other materials you wish
(newspaper or magazine articles, web material etc.), but these will not count towards the required
(minimum) four scholarly sources. All sources consulted must be cited, with page numbers where
appropriate. Any recognized citation style (parenthetical or footnotes) is fine, as long as you are
consistent. Try to paraphrase the readings you are using (but do not forget to give page references
when paraphrasing). You should quote directly from the text only when the precise wording is crucial
to a point you are making, or when a formulation is a particularly apt expression of an important
claim. All sources you use must be listed in a bibliography at the end of your paper. Please note that
you cannot include sources in your bibliography to which you do not refer (parenthetically or in
footnotes) in the body of your essay. Please also note that using ideas from a source without
acknowledging the source in references and in your bibliography constitutes plagiarism.
The goal of this essay is to present a clear and convincing argument about a given topic to an academic
audience. Most of the choices of questions suggested below are broad or ambiguous statements, or
questions that are very general. Part of the challenge of this assignment is to narrow down a broad
topic into a more specific research question and to answer this question. You can take the topic in any
direction you want to, but it needs to be stated explicitly in your introduction, and argued on clearly.
To test whether you have presented an argument (i.e. answered the question), ask yourself if someone
could disagree with you and contend that you are wrong. Your argument will be more convincing if
you anticipate potential criticisms from someone who might disagree with you. Make sure that the
argument (thesis) you are trying to prove is not too general. Examples of arguments that are too
– Neorealists and neoliberal institutionalists have different ideas about the state of nature. (What
are the differences? Why do they matter?)
– Thucydides and Wilson both agree and disagree about justice in international politics. (In what
respects do they agree and disagree, and why?)
It is perfectly fine if you argue that a question itself is wrong or misleading. However, such a critique
also has to be defended by argument, not simply asserted.
Present your argument(s) in a clear and structured manner. In the introductory paragraph, restate the
question (as you interpret and understand it), and state your thesis concisely (you may also give an
overview of various steps or aspects of your argumentation). Make sure you break up the main part of
your paper into paragraphs and sections that cover different steps or aspects of your argumentation. In
the conclusion, summarize the most important results of your analysis
Below is a list of research questions or general topics from which to choose. If you want to use a
question that is not included below, you must have it approved by the instructor or by the teaching
assistant at least one week before the deadline. Note that this is a course where the overarching topic
concerns the theoretical aspects of international relations analysis, so if you choose to build your own
research question, make sure to keep this in mind. Suggested topics/questions:
1. Is realism obsolete in the contemporary era of globalization?
2. Are there foreign policy implications of democratic peace theory?
3. Neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism – a case for synthesis or distinction?
4. Realist vs. English School theorizing of the balance of power
5. Liberal vs. Marxist theorizing of transnationalism
6. Constructivist and rational-choice approaches to IR – a case for synthesis or distinction?
7. A critique of constructivism
8. Feminism is good at criticizing mainstream approaches, but it does not offer a satisfactory
alternative theoretical framework. Discuss.
9. Why study discourses to learn something about world politics?
10. Contributions and limitations of the postcolonial approach to IR theory
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