Who Rules the World? International Order(s) in Theory and Practice

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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Students on-site
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Course Description: 

Populist movements, rising states, and revisionist leaders have increasingly challenged the legitimacy of the existing world order and Western powers’ position at the top of it. These challenges raise questions not only about the viability and desirability of the current world order, but about order as such: what is international order? How do international orders function? And if we now live in a “liberal world order,” what are the fundamental alternatives?
This course will raise these questions by critically examining historical international orders and the expanding body of theory scholars use to understand them. After discussing and debating key visions of order, we will embark on a “grand tour” of mechanisms of order: anarchy and the balance of power, hierarchy and hegemonic stability, empire and imperialism. In the second half of the course we will examine concrete world orders: Medieval Christendom, the 19th Century concert system, and the Sinocentric East Asia ‘tribute’ system. We conclude by returning to the contemporary postwar order and its future. Throughout, we will ask questions centred on the core themes of order, legitimacy, and power: how does a given order structure power relations? Who, if anyone, rules it? How are international orders established, and why do they decline? Who benefits from a given order, and who doesn’t?

Learning Outcomes: 

This course’s main aim is to provide students with understandings of:
• Theories of international order as they have been approached in mainstream international relations paradigms (i.e. English School, Constructivism, and Realism) and new interventions in order research;
• The traditional “mechanisms” or international order, including the balance of power, hegemonic stability, and imperialism;
• How historical international orders are understood and debated, with special focus on Medieval Christendom, the Concert of Europe, and East Asia tribute system;
• Current debates about the decline (or perseverance) of the postwar order and its alternatives


Class participation: 10%
Written assignment 1: 30%
Written assignment 2*: 60%