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Higher School of Economics

Understanding International Relations Theory

Higher School of Economics via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


The course is for:
• Those who are interested in international relations
• For students in International Relations, Political science, Regional studies
• Those who work in the international organizations
• Those who like to study online and gain knowledge from another field of science.
• For international journalists
The problem of war and peace has been of interest to humanity since ancient times, when the first states began to pursue their foreign policy and build relations with neighboring states. In the 21st century, the use of military force and the violation of peace is still an important problem in the system of international relations. As part of this distance course, students will study the history of the formation of the modern system of international relations and will be able to explain the features of various theories interpreting the foreign policy of the state.
The online course will be useful and interesting not only for students studying political science, but also for everyone who is interested in the foreign policy of the countries of the world and the system of international relations. The remote learning format allows you to join the course from anywhere in the world.
The course "Understanding International Relations Theory" of the Higher School of Economics provides you with useful knowledge of international relations. Having a PC or a laptop connected to the Internet, you can join the course of our university from any country. The first question to which students will find the answer will be "What is IR science"? The main goal of this online course is to understand the origins and features of the modern international relations system and be able to analyze the foreign policy of states through the prism of the theory of international relations. After completing the course, students will be able to analyze the special features of different theories of international relations, ranging from realism, liberalism and Marxism to Constructivism, Postmodernism, Feminism etc. Moreover, students will find an answer to one of the key questions in IR science: who is actor of international politics? Passing the tests and writing essays will allow students to consolidate their knowledge in the field of international relations.
The course consists of short video lectures from 3 to 17 minutes, in which invaluable questions are included.
Test of 8 questions will take place every week except the last week. In the first, fourth and seventh weeks, along with tests students also submit an essay (the essay must be at least 200-300 words long). In the end of the online course there is a final exam in the form of essay. The final essay must be at least 400 words long.
The course allows you to interpret important international events and foreign policy of states through the prism of different theories of international relations.
By the end of online course students will get the knowledge of:
• The history of the formation of IR science.
• Theories of international relations and their features.
• Actors of international relations and their features.
• Analysis of Russian foreign policy through the prism of realism.
• Critical analysis of the foreign policy of states through the prism of theories of international relations.
• Types of power in international relations and their features


  • Birth of the science and classical tradition
    • The module aims to introduce to the ancient roots of the modern IR theories. Starting form Thucydides and his "History of Peloponnesian War" the lecture teaches to the student's further intellectual development of the realist paradigm of international relations: Machiavelli, Hobbes and creation of the Treaty of Westphalia, which in many respects became a foundation of the modern international politics.
  • Origins of Liberalism
    • The lecture introduces the students to the second grand paradigm of international relations: liberalism. What if the international politics is not a static world of fights and survival, but a permanent movement to a better world? The origins of the new approach lies in the age of Enlightenment and even earlier - in the very core ideas of Christianity.
  • The beginning: the World Wars and genesis of the IR science
    • Since the very beginning the development of political thought was hugely stimulated by wars. In the first half of the XX century the question of war and peace became critical for survival of our civilisation. The module introduces to the great debates between the two grand paradigms during the World Wars and explains how the first scientific theories emerged from these debates.
  • Kenneth Waltz and Structural Theory
    • The Cold War became a new intellectual challenge for the IR thinkers. How to survive in the nuclear age? The module introduces to the realist answer, which took a form of the structural realism.
  • Neoliberalism: The Liberal paradigm after the WWII
    • The module aims to teach the evolution of the liberal paradigm during the Cold War. Failed to build up an "eternal peace" after the French Revolution and after the WWI, liberalism proposes a new, even more comprehensive theory to make a new attempt.
  • Marxism and Neo-Marxism
    • While the two classical paradigms passes through great debates, Marxism proposes a fundamentally different picture of the world. Welcome to the world of class struggle and imperialist wars: a comprehensive study of economic factors, which drives the world politics will challenge the very basic assumptions of realism and liberalism.
  • Critical IR theories (Constructivism, Postmodernism, Feminism)
    • The end of the Cold War, which have never been predicted by any classical theory, put a question about their legitimacy and broke up fundamental academic debates. The module introduce to the so-called critical theories and their interpretation of the key problems of world politics.
  • Actors in international relations
    • The module focuses on the one of the key theoretical problems in the IR science: who is actor of international politics? While some theories assumes that only states have enough capabilities ti be considered as actors if IR, some concepts assume that even an individual can play an important role. The module introduces the students to these important debates.
  • Power in international relations
    • Power is the fundamental category of political science. What is power in IR and how can we classify it? What is the balance of power concept? Which state is the most powerful in the world and can a non-state actor dominate the world politics? The module give answers to these and other questions relating the topic.
  • Global governance
    • Is it possible to establish a world government? And will it lead to "eternal peace"? These questions are essential to understand the key patterns and contradictions, which drive the modern international politics.
  • Back to classics: the Realist Paradigm in the XXI century
    • The most ancient concept emerges again in the XXI century: with new conflicts, hybrid wars and power struggle between the key states realism seems to be the best to explain international politics. Does it mean that the mankind never changes and the modern world is not so different from the world of Thucydides? Or the realist theories just adapt themselves to the modern world?
  • Russia as a realist power
    • Russian foreign policy seems to be a mystery for many observers. The module proposes a realist interpretation of the Russian actions within the international system. Does it give an all out explanations?

Taught by

Timofei Bordachev and Dmitrii Suslov


5.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Understanding International Relations Theory

  • this is one of the greatest courses i have ever done in my life ,i understand now how to negotiate with other country, how to resolve issues amicably and to be mend relations
    A very interesting course that I can recommend for anyone who wants to know how international Relations had and still is shaping international politics. The various lecturers teaching this course are proven professionals. It was educative and fun.

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