Teaching International Relations Theory
- Craig Douglas AlbertCraig Douglas AlbertDepartment of Political Science, Augusta University
International relations (IR) theory is favorably described in almost every syllabus since 1930. The most important questions asked were: “What is theory?” and “Is there a reason for IR theory?” The most widely used texts all focus on the first question and suggest, among others, that IR theory is “a way of making the world or some part of it more intelligible or better understood.” We can gauge where the teaching of IR theory is today by analyzing a sample of syllabi from IR scholars serving on the Advisory Board of the International Studies Association’s (ISA) Compendium Project. These syllabi reveal some trends. Within the eight undergraduate syllabi, for example, a general introduction to IR theory is taught in four separate classes. Among the theories discussed in different classes are realism, classical realism, neo-realism, Marxism and neo-Marxism, world-systems theory, imperialism, constructivism, and international political economy. Novel methods for teaching IR theory include the use of films, active learning, and experiential learning. The diversity of treatments of IR theory implied by the ISA syllabi provides evidence that, with the exception of the proliferation of perspectives, relatively little has changed since the debates of the late 1930s. The discipline lacks much semblance of unity regarding whether, and how, to offer IR theory to students. Nevertheless, there have been improvements that are likely to continue in terms of the ways in which theories may be presented.