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Our modules – University of Reading

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  • Develop an in-depth knowledge

    Study a breadth of topics or specialise in a particular area

Our modules

We offer a wide range of optional modules across all of our master's degrees. This gives you the flexibility to study a number of topics or specialise in a specific area.

Our optional modules are arranged on an annual basis and are subject to change. It is possible that a module may be modified in its content, suspended for a session, or discontinued. New modules may become available in any given year.

Choose a module from the list below for an overview.

Postgraduate modules

Research training modules

Building Peace after Civil War

Since the end of the Cold War, the nature of conflict has changed, with civil wars becoming the most prevalent form of conflict and the number and type of actors involved evolving. As a result, the international community has developed new instruments and approaches to resolve conflicts and mitigate their consequences.

In this module, we will explore the different approaches chosen by the international community to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts, assessing both military and non-military instruments, and discuss the factors that promote and hinder effective conflict management. Drawing on a number of recent and contemporary case studies, we will examine peacemaking and negotiating an end to conflict, peacekeeping, statebuilding, and the relationship between peacebuilding and development. We will look at a variety of actors, including major international organizations like the UN, regional organizations, grassroots groups and NGOs, and local groups in war-torn countries, debating who is best-placed to build peace. In addition, we will consider what success looks like in post-conflict peacebuilding and how to measure it. We will draw on a variety of resources, including media and current events, in addition to scholarly work on peacebuilding.

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Conflict in the Middle East

The Middle East has recently experienced a wave of potentially transformative revolutions. With the hope for democracy, however, has come the risk of widespread violence and destabilisation. Is the region about to descend into a long, dark 'Arab winter'?

This course addresses Middle Eastern conflict as a broad area of inquiry and investigates the political, economic and social conditions from which it arises. It begins with an examination of how the pre-modern heritage of the region, the impact of imperialism, the rise of competing ideologies and the advance of modernisation have shaped contemporary politics and engendered the power struggles of the present day.

This is followed by an assessment of the origins and evolution of religious fundamentalism, with a strong focus on political Islam and its many facets. We examine the dynamics of inter-state, intra-state and inter-ethnic conflicts, with a particular focus on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon and the role of foreign intervention. The course also covers all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Governance, Security, Development

The module introduces you to issues that emerged with the end of the cold war and the subsequent expansion of a liberal system of global governance and development. This process was accompanied by a shift from the predominant focus on the expansion of a capitalist world system to the expansion and protection of a liberal world order based on globalised norms of political, social, and economic conduct, poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment are increasingly coded as security-related rather than economic issues. How Western-dominated structures of global governance respond to these new challenges has become a central aspect of contemporary security studies.

As developments in the last two decades have demonstrated, its traditional focus on inter-state competition can no longer account for the emerging global security agenda that focuses on humanitarian as well as military interventions into 'complex emergencies' and internecine conflicts in the 'borderlands of globalisation', and on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns against the violent resistance against globalisation.

The module will enable you to critically reflect on the ideological and theoretical assumptions supporting the 'wars of globalisation' and to critically investigate the causes, conduct, and consequences of these conflicts, both on the national as well as international level.

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International Relations Theory

In thinking about contemporary problems in international relations, where should we begin? Theories attempt to provide an answer. They provide ways of conceptualising the international system, they present arguments about what drives state behaviour, and they reflect on the challenges that face international actors.

They also raise questions about how and why the world looks as it does, what we can know about it, how we can change it, and what we ought to do (and not do). This module provides an overview of the principal schools of thought that grapple with these problems within the modern discipline of international relations.

It thereby provides a core academic training for anyone thinking of working in this field and equips you with the intellectual tools required to start to make sense of the many and varied problems we face in the world today.

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International Security Studies

As the nature of threats, risks, and dangers has changed significantly over the last decades, international security studies has struggled to adapt its conceptual and theoretical structure to this new, yet still dangerous world. What are the sources, forms and consequences of international insecurity today? How can we deal with them, perhaps even overcome them? Do traditional theories suffice to guide our inquiries, or do we need new approaches in order to understand this new world?

The module is guided by these questions, introducing you to both traditional and critical theories of security, as well as new ways to study insecurity and the particular political ideologies and doctrines that underpin it, and the practices put into place to manage and alleviate it.

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Parliamentary Studies

This highly innovative module is offered in partnership with the Houses of Parliament and is co-taught by parliamentary staff alongside colleagues from the Department of Politics. The module gives you the opportunity to discover the inner workings of Parliament, in theory and in practice, and consider its place in our broader democratic system.

You will develop a detailed knowledge and understanding of the functions of Parliament, how Parliament fits within the wider UK political system, how the UK Parliament compares to legislatures in other democracies and what role the legislature plays in the policy-making process. This understanding will be based on real-world engagement with Parliament and parliamentarians as well as the insights of scholarly research.

You will shadow one part of Parliament and reports regularly on its activities. Members of the parliamentary outreach service will come to Reading to lend their hands-on expertise during some sessions, and we will be inviting a series of senior politicians to come as guest speakers. We will also have a trip to Parliament itself during Enhancement Week, giving you direct access to the political world.

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Public Ethics

This team-taught module explores the ethical dimensions of politics. It will focus both on questions about the morality of individual political actors, who may be expected and even required to breach otherwise binding moral norms, and on the ethical assessment of particular public policies, such as for example the use of choice architecture to promote independently desirable outcomes.

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The Political Economy of Civil War

Conflict has always been present in international affairs. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the sources and patterns of conflict have evolved, and civil wars – often with the involvement of external actors have become the most prevalent form of conflict.

This course examines the changing character of conflict, looking at key sources and explanations for the outbreak of civil wars, both structural and proximate, and examining competing definitions of civil war. It questions the link between poverty, inequality, and social violence, between religion and war, and between ethnicity and war.

We will also explore the opportunities for and feasibility of civil war, examining the role played by natural resources, as well as the evolving cast of characters involved in civil wars. Drawing on a diverse range of case studies, the course links civil war to broader theories in international relations and uses qualitative, quantitative, online, and media sources to complement the reading list.

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Strategic Practice

The wars and strategies of the early 21st century thus stand in long traditions and have many precedents; only in few aspects are they "new". The "Practice of Strategy" focuses on strategy, as practiced by governments, generals and admirals, on their thinking, planning, and execution of plans, and on the effects of their strategies. The latter can only be understood in the context of how wars were prepared for at the time, how soldiers were recruited, how campaign were carried out, how wars were fought, in what societies, economies, and with what values and culturally embedded beliefs. It is reality ndash; what actually, demonstrably happened ndash; that is at the centre of this module.

The survey begins with Antiquity, as European cultures modelled themselves on Antique examples and self-consciously adopted most concepts from Greek and Roman literature. The generals of Modern Times, up to Napoleon and later, sought to live up to the standards of Pericles, Alexander, and Caesar. After the wars of the Age of Enlightenment, paradigmatic of "limited warfare", however, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars supposedly shed all limitations to become "war in its absolute perfection" (Clausewitz). Yet the exponential growth of populations, state organisation, technological innovation and the mass production of the means of war, coupled with the spread of bellicose ideologies led to much worse still from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. Alongside "regular" inter-state wars, we study civil Wars ndash; including insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

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Strategic Theorists

What does "strategy" mean? How has the understanding of the term evolved, and how has it come to mean a comprehensive way to pursue political ends, including the threat or actual use of force? Did "strategies" exist before the Byzantines first defined the term, and was there strategic thinking in the Occident before a key Byzantine text attributed to Leo VI (the Wise) was translated into Western vernaculars? Are there key, recurrent concepts in strategic thinking that have endured despite all the technological, social, economic and political innovations that have occurred since the late Middle Ages?

Homing in on the work of key thinkers such as Christine de Pizan, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Jomini, Liddell Hart, Mao Tse Tung, Bernard Brodie and Colin Gray, this module elucidates the great debates about strategy, its political aims and its military means. This module thus complements "Modern Strategy" above in taking a more theoretical and ideational approach to the subject matter of strategic studies.

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Terrorism in a Globalising World

This module aims to convey a sense of how terrorism relates to world politics, the individual, and everything in between. It proceeds by examining competing definitions of terrorism and the theoretical and practical implications; past, present and future trends in the history of terrorism; terrorists' motivation and the incentives to choose terrorism as a behaviour; terrorist methods; counter-terrorism options; regional patterns; and historical case studies.

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The Origins and Causes of War

Scholars in many disciplines have been preoccupied with society's worst disease: war. Biologists have established that humans are not the only species to fight in organised groups; paleoanthropologists have tried to ascertain when war first occurred and why; psychologists enquire into the minds of those who wage it; anthropologists study culturally diverse attitudes to war; while historians generate and political scientists analyse the greatest data bank on wars and conflicts. Is aggression a biologically programmed part of human nature? Is organised violence an intrinsic part of any human society? Is it a function of how societies are organised, and of their acquired values and ideals?

This course draws on literature from all of these disciplines and examines examples drawn from all of human history, to reach conclusions about humanity and war from which all other attempts to contain this disease must start.

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The Politics and Economics of Immigration

We live in an increasingly interdependent world. Increasing population mobility and freedom of movement resulting in global flows of migration, are placing pressures on individual nation-states and raise questions of immigration management: how should minorities be treated, how should migrant integration be facilitated and, how should citizenship laws be determined? While immigration may have positive effects on the economy, it is negative aspects, including job scarcity, the limits of welfare state provision and the power of nationalist sentiments that are often emphasised. The proclamation of the 'failure of multiculturalism', the adoption of stricter immigration policies and the rise of nationalist parties suggest that immigration control is an issue that is becoming increasingly prominent in policy debates and political party agendas. Although strict immigration tends to be associated with the far right, increasingly mainstream parties are also adopting tougher immigration controls.

How may we understand the impact of immigration on societies' politics and economies? Does immigration undermine support for the welfare state? What determines the criteria for inclusion and exclusion? What determines individual attitudes towards immigration? Is immigration the key driving force of far right-wing party support?

This course addresses these questions through an analysis of the political and economic consequences of immigration. Adopting a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, the course provides a broad overview of the theories of and approaches to the study of immigration; it explores the economic and political dimensions of immigration including its impact on labour markets, debt, welfare states and domestic party competition; and examines the ways in which immigration policies are shaped.

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Themes and Issues in Contemporary International Relations

How should we characterize the contemporary world? Is the US in decline? Will China rival it as the next superpower? Or are international organizations and the forces of globalization becoming so powerful that it no longer makes sense to approach international relations through the lens of rivalry between the great powers? These are some of the questions this module seeks to answer. It explores the changing distribution of power in the contemporary world, the changing role of international organizations, the emergence of new norms, and the impact of globalization. It also asks why democracies do not fight one another (and if this makes them more war-prone in other ways) and why a climate change deal is so difficult to achieve. It thereby aims to provide an insight into some of the key themes and issues in modern international relations, equipping you with the knowledge required to work in the field or to undertake further research.

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Research training modules

Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in Politics and International Relations

This module covers the basics of research design and focuses attention on a range of widely used qualitative research methods in the study of politics and international relations. The main topics covered normally include philosophical research traditions, research design, case studies and within-case analysis, small-n comparative analysis, historical approaches, archival research, interview and ethnographic techniques, critical discourse analysis, and qualitative comparative analysis. The assessment for the module includes an online test, and a report in which you consider how you would apply the methods covered in the module to an actual research project. The module will be taught in weekly two-hour seminars in the Autumn and Spring Terms. You will be encouraged to use examples taken from your own field (and from your own research, where possible) in class discussion.

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Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in Politics and International Relations

The purpose of this module is to introduce you to the basics of research design and the principal quantitative methods used in political science and international relations. The course discusses the best practice for the collection and analysis of information about human behaviour and institutions. To help you understand and apply research methods, the discussion and many of the examples used in the module will be taken from existing quantitative research in international relations, comparative politics and political economy. You are then required to test hypotheses using the methods they have learned in the course.

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Philosophy of Social Science

This module introduces you to the consideration of methodological, philosophical and ethical problems encountered in graduate research in the social sciences. You will study and discuss the difficulties involved in characterising the nature of social-scientific research and the status of the knowledge it produces, as well as a range of research traditions. It will also cover specific issues such as principles of research design, reflexivity, causation, conceptual and normative analysis.

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