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International Relations (MSc/PGDip)

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Course overview

The MSc in International Relations, the largest Masters stream offered by the Department of Politics and International Relations, allows you the opportunity to engage critically with broad issues in various regions around the globe. The core of the programme introduces key themes and approaches to the study of international politics, and then allows you to bring these to bear on social, economic, and political interactions of key actors in world politics.  

You will study a mixture of core units and elective options, including a generous choice of free options, and write a supervised dissertation over the summer. Option courses for the programme do vary from year to year, but normally include courses on US foreign policy, south Asian politics, EU foreign and security policy, media and war, and international law. Teaching is conducted primarily in small group seminars that meet weekly for two hours, supplemented by individual tuition for the dissertation.

This course is also offered at Postgraduate Diploma level for those who do not have the academic background necessary to begin an advanced Masters degree. The structure of the Diploma is identical except that you will not write a dissertation. If you are successful on the Diploma you may transfer to the MSc, subject to academic approval.

Key facts

Key facts about the course
Qualification Master of Science or Postgraduate Diploma
Duration 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time
Department and Faculty Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Partner institution(s) --
Course director Dr Michelle Bentley
Contact for more information michelle.bentley@rhul.ac.uk

Fees / funding

Please visit the Fees and funding pages for the latest information about tuition fees and the different sources of funding which may be available to you.

How to apply

Applications for entry to all our full-time postgraduate degrees can be made online.

Further information on making an application, including the documentation that you will need to submit with the application is available in the How to apply section of this site.

If you are interested in applying to Royal Holloway, why not arrange a visit to our campus to see for yourself what academic and student life is like here. More information on arranging visits is available on our Open days pages.


Entry requirements

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1) or equivalent.

Mature students with substantial work experience will also be considered.

English language requirements:

IELTS 6.5 overall with 7.0 in writing and a minimum of 5.5 in all other subscores. For equivalencies see here|.

This course attracts those with backgrounds in political science and from allied disciplines, and both recent graduates and mature students with work experience.

Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.


Why choose this course?

  • The Department of Politics and International Relations is a young, vibrant and rapidly-rising department and was ranked in the Top 10 small politics departments in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).
  • The course is taught by world-class scholars and informed by cutting-edge research.
  • The course offers an advanced grounding in international relations while allowing you to specialise in particular issues or regions of interest.
  • Our international cohort of students will provide you with excellent opportunities to obtain genuinely global perspectives.

Department research and industry highlights

  • The Centre for European Politics was officially launched by Lord Mandelson in September 2007, with the mission of producing research in two principal areas: the study of democracy in Europe, and Europe as an actor in world politics. Under the leadership of Co-Directors Dr Alister Miskimmon and Dr James Sloam, it has recently hosted a number of high-profile speakers, including Lord Mandelson, Professor Simon Hix (LSE), Roger Liddle (Policy Network), John Peet (The Economist), Sir Stephen Wall (former European policy advisor to Tony Blair), and David Willetts MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Innovations, Universities and Skills).
    Recent funded research projects include: a European Union Committee of the Regions consultancy on EU External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy; an EU-funded Workshop on the Review of the European Union Budget; and Teaching Democracy.
  • The Centre for Global and Transnational Politics is devoted to the multi-disciplinary exploration of global and transnational processes. Led by its Co-Directors Dr Chris Rumford and Professor Sandra Halperin, its central concern is to theorise and conceptualise the substance of, and connections between and among, political processes that operate at all levels or scales: the local, national, international, transnational, and global.
    The Centre recently won £54,000 from NORFACE, a partnership of European Research Councils including the ESRC, for a pan-European research network on globalisation and the transformation of Europe's borders, and £20,000 from the joint AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme for a research network on the normative foundations of public policy in a multi-faith society.
    Dr Yasmin Khan’s recent book The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Yale University Press) won the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Book Prize of 2007.
  • The New Political Communication Unit’s research agenda focuses on the impact of new media and communication technologies on politics, policy and governance. Dr Ben O'Loughlin and Akil N. Awan, together with colleague Andrew Hoskins at the University of Warwick, were awarded £300,000 from the ESRC for a study of terrorist networks on the internet.
    Unit Co-Director Professor Andrew Chadwick is one of the founding members of the US National Science Foundation's International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policymaking, a three year project focusing on how political interaction on the internet can contribute to better government policy. It is funded through part of an overall grant of $1m to the State University of New York at Albany, from the NSF Digital Government Programme. Andrew Chadwick’s recent book Internet Politics (Oxford University Press) was awarded one of the American Sociological Association Best Book Prizes in 2007.
  • The Contemporary Political Theory Research Group was founded in October 2009, as a result of the development of political theory at postgraduate level and growth in academic staff numbers having created the critical mass it required. The group organizes its activities collectively, and its work focuses on issues around contemporary pluralism, liberalism, democratic theory and radical politics. It brings together staff working in contemporary Continental philosophy, normative political theory, and American pragmatism, and its postgraduate members include two students on the College’s most prestigious studentship, the Reid Award. The group also has ties to the College’s Philosophy Team and the interdepartmental Humanities and Arts Research Centre.

Course content and structure

You will study three core units (chosen from a total of five options, listed below), an additional core unit (options vary from year to year), two elective units, and write a dissertation over the summer. Course units include one of three disciplinary training pathway courses, a course in research design, analysing international politics, and specialist options in international relations.

Students studying for the Postgraduate Diploma do not undertake the dissertation. 

Core course units:

Analysing International Politics
You will be provided with an advanced grounding in the key concepts and ideas employed in the analysis of international relations. The specific aims of the unit are to explore the ways in which the international system in which we live is not a timeless reality, but rather a particular socially and historically constructed way of organizing human affairs. This course provides the background for further course offerings in the theories and politics of globalisation, issues in US foreign policy, regional politics (including south Asia, China and the Far East, and the EU/Europe), and international law.

Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in Politics and International Relations
You will be introduced to quantitative methods commonly used in the study of Politics and International Relations. You will acquire the skills to understand, critically analyse, and carry out a range of quantitative techniques, using statistical software packages such as SPSS.

Introduction to Qualitative Methods in Politics and International Relations
You will be provided with an introduction to core theories and qualitative approaches in politics and international relations. You will examine a number of explanatory/theoretical frameworks, their basic assumptions, strengths and weaknesses, and concrete research applications. You will consider the various qualitative techniques available for conducting search research, the range of decisions qualitative researchers face, and the trade-offs researchers must consider when designing qualitative research.

Foundations of Contemporary Political Theory
You will explore key texts and ideas that underpin a variety of late 20th and early 21st century approaches in political thought, such as contractarianism, pragmatism, genealogy, deconstruction, and contextual history.

Research Design in Politics and International Relations
This unit focuses on the process and practice of research in politics and international relations: the principles and procedures that guide scholars in PIR as they conduct research, the kinds of questions they ask, and the variety of decisions that they must make.

Dissertation (MSc only)
The dissertation gives you the opportunity to study an aspect of International Relations in depth. You will be assigned a dissertation supervisor and the length of the piece will be 12-15,000 words. 


Elective course units:

(N.B. Not all course units are available every year)

China in the World
As an increasingly crucial force in world politics today, China is much discussed but less well understood. The aim of this unit is to critically examine Chinese foreign policy and China’s impact on the international system and society in order to understand the origins, nature and consequences of its current ascendance. This unit will equip and require you to evaluate the options and prospects for the exercise of Chinese power and the role of China in international society in the contemporary era.

Comparative Political Executives
This unit explores the political executives of established democratic systems, focusing on institutions – presidents, prime ministers, cabinets and so on – and how they function and interact with other parts of the political system. You will gain knowledge of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the executives in question, and will also gain useful insights into the difficulties of political leadership, the centrality of political executives and the interdependence of executives with other parts of the political system.

Contemporary Continental Political Theory
You will be introduced to key questions and arguments concerning the relationship between identity, power, meaning and knowledge, through examination of key figures in contemporary continental political thought. You will develop the ability to critically reflect about the nature and scope of politics and ethics through engagement with texts that have sought to provide insights and new ways of thinking about these realms.

Culture and Community
You will cover a number of debates concerning the claims for recognition made by minority cultures and nations. The introductory session outlines the liberal perspective against which the multiculturalist critique is addressed. Thereafter, you will cover the assault on ‘false neutrality’ and a variety of attempts to overcome it, address a number of issues raised by multiculturalism, and you will focus on the resurgence of nationality as an ethically significant concept.

Democracy and Citizenship in Europe
This unit is designed to introduce you to the theory and practice of democracy and citizenship in Europe. You will be offered a distinctive perspective on the nature of democracy and citizenship in Western Europe today (with a particular focus on the UK, Germany and France, and using the United States as a comparator). It explores the roots of democracy and citizenship and asks to what extent those basic principles are still valid today.

Democracy in Comparative Perspective
The core aim of this unit is to provide you with a sound understanding of contemporary thinking about democracy and democratisation in different national and supra-national contexts.

Foreign Policy of the European Union
You will be provided with a systematic understanding of knowledge relating to the role of the European Union in International Relations. You will develop a critical awareness of current research and methodologies within International Relations relating to the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. You will also study conceptual tools for analysing and evaluating complex problems of order and justice in International Relations.

Human Rights
You will explore some of the key issues which arise in the moral evaluation of human rights, both in general and with respect to particular rights. You will explore the role of rights in political and moral discourse and consider some of the key criticisms to which they’ve been subject. You will also explore three major categories of rights which have attracted much debate: economic rights, minority rights, and group rights. The final section of the unit will consider three central rights in liberal societies, examining the ways in which they have been interpreted and defended in the light of recent political debates.

Identity, Power and Radical Political Theory
You will be introduced to new conceptualizations of identity, difference, power, and politics that are associated most notably with what has been termed “Post-Marxist” or “New Left” politics and political philosophy. Its premise is that recent changes in both political theory and practice – some of which are associated with changes linked to globalisation and the emergence of new social movements – are compelling a paradigm shift in the way politics is understood.

Issues in United States Foreign Policy
Described by some as a “hyperpower” – that is a state which has surpassed the other great powers in the international system – the foreign policy of the United States has a significant impact on international politics. This course therefore focuses on the historical and contemporary ideas that animate US foreign policy. You will engage with a range of advanced texts and to interrogate these texts with regard to their relevance to contemporary American foreign policy.

The Politics of Ethnic Multiculturalism
You will develop a solid knowledge of the history of Muslim migration and settlement in Britain, comparing their history with that of British Hindus and you will examine the origins and emergence of multiculturalism with regard to the politics of minority ethnic British communities. You will also examine critics of multiculturalism and their alternative political prescriptions.

Internet and New Media Politics
Drawing predominantly upon specialist academic journal literatures, this unit focuses on a number of important contemporary debates about the role and influence of new technologies on the values, processes and outcomes of: global governance institutions; public bureaucracies; representative institutions including political parties and legislatures; pressure groups and social movements. 

Media, War and Conflict
The post-9/11 global security situation and the 2003 Iraq war have prompted a marked increase in interest in questions concerning media, war and conflict. This unit examines the relationships between media, governments, military, and audiences/publics, in light of old, new, and potential future security events.

Politics of Forced Migration
You will study ‘forced migration’, particularly refugees and IDPs, rather than economic or ‘voluntary’ migration. You will examine both the theoretical issues arising out of mass displacement, as well as specific case studies. You will also explore various policy options in naming and labelling, caring for and dealing with such mass upheavals.

Sovereignty, Rights, and Justice
You will engage with cutting edge contemporary international political/normative theory and apply theory to a number of key normative issues in the international system, exploring the differences between theory and practice. You will also be provided with a framework for thinking about challenging issues in the international system. 

Theories of Globalisation
The meaning and causes of globalisation are highly contested. Some theorists hold that it is the logical outcome of capitalism and the development of world markets, or the result of information technologies with transformative implications for state, society and the individual. Others argue that it is the outcome of long-term processes through which the world has become shaped by certain cultural norms, or by the diffusion of rational models of societal organization leading to something akin to a world polity. In this unit, globalisation is understood in terms of the social, economic, and political processes resulting in greater interconnectedness coupled with a heightened awareness among people that they inhabit “one world.”

Africa and International Politics
This course explores the international politics of sub-Saharan Africa since the 1960s. In particular, it charts the ways in which geopolitical, ideological and economic shifts have helped shape and change African states’ role and engagement in the world.

Biopolitics and Security
Michel Foucault introduced the concept of ‘biopolitics’ to name a series of power relations that developed in the early modern period and that took the life of the body politic as their object.  The emergence of this biopolitical regime involved an intense focus on the efficient management of population, economy, and dynamics that flow across permeable state boundaries.  Biopolitical practices did not do away with more traditional forms of power relations (such as sovereign forms that operated through the threat of death and by holding a monopoly on violence within the state) or politics (such as a geopolitics that sought to secure territory and rested on principles of realpolitik and the balance of power).  However, it did modify the place of these older forms within a new relationship between power, knowledge, and discourse.  This course will explore these ideas as they are developed in Foucault and other contemporary theorists and as they are applied to a variety of security issues both within and beyond the boundaries of the territorial nation-state.

Political Violence
This course seeks to provide an analytical and theoretical tool kit for understanding political violence, broadly defined. This ranges from riots and political assassinations to acts of terrorism, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The major questions running throughout the course will be why political violence takes place, how we can explain why violence is resorted to as a political tool or tactic, and why particular types of violence become prominent at particular times.

Transnational Security and the Law of Targeting
The aim of the course is to introduce students to the basic concepts of international law and how these concepts are applied to targeting during an armed conflict. It will enable students to develop critical thinking about what the law consists of and about how the legal rules are represented in certain important writings.  The final aim is to show how the legal rules are applied in practice, in relation to particular types of attack.

On completion of the course graduates will have:

  • an advanced knowledge and critical understanding of key concepts, theoretical debates, and developments related to international relations
  • a sound knowledge of the texts, theories and methods used to enhance understanding of the issues, processes and phenomena associated with particular fields of politics and international relations
  • an advanced knowledge and critical understanding of research methods within the disciplines of politics and international relations
  • a solid foundation for progression to either a politics-related career or continued academic study.

View the full course specification for International Relations (MSc/PGDip) in the Programme Specification Repository


Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including coursework, examinations and a dissertation.

Employability & career opportunities

Our graduates are highly employable and, in recent years, have entered many different politics and international relations-related areas, including roles as officials in local government, personnel officers and higher education lecturers. This course also equips you with a solid foundation for continued PhD studies.


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