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Concepts and Theories of International Security (PO966)

Concepts and Theories of International Security is the core module for the MA International Security Programme. It provides students with an advanced introduction to various theories of “security” in international relations.

What is security? Whose security counts? And how is security enacted? This module introduces students to key theories of security in international relations, and explores wide-ranging approaches to the analysis of security. It invites students to reflect on the analytical and normative implications of different theories and approaches, and to engage different approaches through relevant case studies. The module contrasts traditional to critical approaches to security, and encourages reflection on the political and ethical implications of the traditional assumption that security means the preservation of state sovereignty and territorial integrity. In introducing students to a range of different ways of conceptualising security in international relations, it points to the importance of recognising that security is highly contested and contestable, and emphasises the Euro- or western-centric tendencies of security studies. The first part of the module begins by outlining some of the key debates about security in international relations, such as the traditional/critical and the broadening/deepening debate. The second part of the module examines more traditional theoretical approaches and conceptual frameworks, such as realism and liberalism and the English School. The third part of the module examines various critical theoretical approaches and conceptual frameworks to security, such as poststructuralism, feminism and critical theory. The final part of the module invites students to reflect on the analytical and normative significance of several core ‘images’ of security in International Relations.

The module has been designed to enable students to develop a critical appreciation of different conceptual and methodological approaches to the analysis of international security. It fosters skills in applying such approaches with reference to case studies across a range of global contexts and political sites, and encourages reflection on the analytical and normative implications of contemporary practices of enacting security. Specifically, the module enables students to critically reflect upon the different assumptions that frame security theory and practice. It also enables students to critically reflect on the relationship between practices of security and the production of academic knowledge about security.

This module is the core module for those studying International Security but is open to students on all PAIS MA programmes.

Programme content

The module introduces security as a concept and the nature of debates around security, before examining traditional and critical approaches to security (eg ‘realism’, ‘strategic studies’, ‘feminism’, ‘post-structuralism’), concluding with an analysis of core ‘images’ of security (eg ‘clash of civilisations’, ‘risk society’).

Aims and objectives:

  • To provide a comprehensive introduction to concepts and theories of security in international relations.
  • To facilitate the critical examination of particular security concepts or theories.
  • To enhance student research skills through the collection and analysis of information from a wide range of sources.
  • To develop student abilities to present a well made, coherent and logically consistent argument supported by a coherent theoretical framework.