Centre for Continuing Education

International Relations Course: An Introduction

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In light of an increasingly globalised world, an awareness of international relations has become almost indispensable for making sense of the world in which we live. The emerging role of non-state actors, including individuals, NGOs, civil society, in shaping international events means we all have a stake in and, in many cases where civic participation is available to us, a responsibility towards resolving issues of both local and global concern.

In Australia, in recent years, there has been a surge in public debate on issues of global governance, including the environment, refugees, human rights, terrorism, in response to the impact these issues have had, and continue to have in our local contexts. The practice and study of international relations is no longer reserved exclusively for governments and academics – we are all part of the system and its effects, and acknowledgement of this manifests in increased public debates and civic participation and activism on global issues of local concern.

This course intends to provide an introduction to international relations and politics. It seeks to familiarise students with the basic language, concepts and theoretical approaches in the study of international affairs, and to offer a framework for the analysis and understanding of contemporary global politics. A broad focus of matters in international relations is offered at this introductory level, as it is impossible to consider one region of the world in isolation. Participants will examine the evolution of concepts of global community, with a focus on the international system in the 20th century, the impact of the Cold War on the international system, and the changing balance of power following the disintegration of the USSR. Special attention will be paid to the role of the US in the world, the methods and motives of international intervention, the duties of the major powers towards developing countries and the response to the threat of international terrorism. Selected contemporary international conflicts and the effectiveness of international organisations in dealing with them will be discussed.


This course aims to:

  1. Provide an introduction to international relations and politics by familiarising participants with the basic language, concepts and theoretical approaches in the study of international affairs, and to offer a framework for the analysis and understanding of contemporary global politics.
  2. Offer a broad focus of matters in international relations at an introductory level.
  3. Equip participants with the ability to examine the effectiveness of the international system in dealing with issues of both local and global governance.


Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Discuss the role and impact of the range of actors in the international system.
  2. Identify the language/jargon, concepts and theoretical approaches in the study of international affairs.
  3. Examine the effectiveness of the international system in dealing with issues of global significance, and their local impact.
  4. Critically reflect and debate on contemporary international affairs.
  5. Consider and discuss the role of the US in the international system.
  6. Identify the major issues in international affairs that transcend national boundaries.


Part I: Conceptualising I.R.


  • Definitions
  • Significance and motivations (political, economic, strategic, humanitarian, social)

Historical perspective:

  • Evolution of the international system
  • 20th century IR, post-Cold War concepts of security & emergence of US as a super-power
  • Intellectual origins of IR, & IR as academic discipline

Contending theoretical perspectives:

  • Realist Theories
  • Liberal and Social Theories
  • Gender Theories

Level-analysis perspective:

  • System-level
  • State-level
  • Individual-level

Part 2: Actors on the world stage

System-level analysis case studies:

  • International: U.N. (generalist), N.A.T.O. (security), E.U. (economic/political)
  • Transnational: MNCs, NGOs

State-level analysis case studies:

  • US foreign policy
  • Emerging powers: China and India

Part 3: Present and future

Contemporary realities:

  • Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict
  • The Arab Spring, Syria, IS
  • Refugees and humanitarian disasters

Where are we heading?

  • Assessing the efficacy of institutional frameworks vis a vis emerging challenges to the IR system

Intended Audience

This introductory course broadly targets students, staff and members of the public who have an interest in international relations and contemporary global affairs. Those wishing to become knowledgeable about the history, evolution, and contemporary realities of the international system and its actors, and how they affect us at a local level, will benefit from the foundational knowledge that this course provides.

Delivery Style

This course is delivered as a series of lectures.


Handouts will be provided in class.


Basic knowledge of history, particularly European history, is useful but not essential.

Recommended Reading

Baylis, J., Owens, P. and Smith, S. eds., 2017. The globalization of world politics: An introduction to international relations. Oxford University Press.

Blanton, S.L. and Kegley, C.W., 2016. World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 2016-2017. Cengage Learning.

Brown, C. & Ainley, K. 2009. Understanding International Relations. Palgrave Mc Millan.

Hawkins, D.G., Lake, D.A., Nielson, D.L. and Tierney, M.J. eds., 2006. Delegation and agency in international organizations. Cambridge University Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of the World Order. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

Kung, H. A. 1993. Global Ethic: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. New York: Continuum.

Nicholson, M. 2002. International Relations: A Concise Introduction. 2nd ed., Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Pease, K.K.S., 2012. International organizations. New York: Longman.

Watson, A., 2009. The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis Reissue with a new introduction by Barry Buzan and Richard Little. Routledge.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion