6 ECTS credits
160 h study time

Offer 2 with catalog number 1016182BER for all students in the 2nd semester at a (B) Bachelor - advanced level.

2nd semester
Enrollment based on exam contract
Grading method
Grading (scale from 0 to 20)
Can retake in second session
Enrollment Requirements
Je hebt 'Politicologie: algemene inleiding' en 'History of International Relations' gevolgd, alvorens dit opleidingsonderdeel op te nemen.
Taught in
Faculty of Social Sciences & SolvayBusinessSchool
Political Science
Educational team
Jonathan Holslag (course titular)
Nino Junius
Activities and contact hours
20 contact hours Lecture
136 contact hours Independent or External Form of Study
Course Content

In 1532, Fransesco de Vittoria wrote: “The sovereignty of the individual state is limited by the fact that it forms part of a community of nations linked by solidarity and mutual obligations.” At the same moment, Niccolò Machiavelli stated: “The sole plight of a prince is to uphold his power.“ Here we have two intellectuals with the ambition to advise political leaders living in the same region and in the same era, but with completely different opinions. There are many such examples.

The policy that we can observe – the pursuit of peace or the declarations of war, the ambition to promote the common good or the greedy desire for relative gains – is always an outcome of the way interests are defined, of how those interests are shaped by certain values, of how values on their turn are based on assumptions about how the world is organized, and of how those assumptions are often defined by distinct identity and history. This is not to argue that material changes, the shifts in the balance of power, are not important. They are still crucial, but besides the distribution of power, it remains equally important how we define power.

This course helps you understand the underlying assumptions that shape foreign policy, assumptions about how the world functions, about the role of the state, about how states are ought to respond to changes in the international order, and about how the behaviour of the states might be conditioned by trade, institutions, values, and so forth. You will be challenged to identify theoretical arguments in important publications, to test them and to embed them into your own thinking. Because that is the end goal: to use theory to enrich your thinking about world politics.

As a student with the ambition to lead or to study leadership, you have to be conscious that even your thinking is and will be shaped by implicit assumptions, to continue to reflect upon them, and to continuously ask yourself the question: Am I right in thinking this or are their other ways to look at the problem? This should not lead to indecision, but to strengthen your capacity to judge. Furthermore, it will help you understand the opinions and the behaviour of others. Consider that you negotiate about a military intervention and your counterpart resolutely says “no” because it does not want to violate sovereignty. That might appear irrational, but, then, it becomes useful to understand his interests and the assumptions behind them. That insight could give you an idea about how far you can push him on the issue or even allow you to formulate more convincing arguments to make him think twice.

This course challenges you to discover theory, to learn to understand it, to discuss it, and, most importantly, to use it. Building on history of international relations, you will have to work more independently in reading and interpreting different texts. We will continue to pursue interaction.

Additional info

I expect you to have an active knowledge of the content of History of international relations. That course introduced the main strands of theory, key thinkers, and challenged you to make up your mind about how much some of the intellectual debates make sense. From History of international politics you should also be able to extract interesting cases for theory testing. You should have a good command of English.

Teaching Methods

  • Interactive lectures

This description of the teaching methods is indicative, in order to assess the expected study load.


Lecture: about 24 hours 

Self: 136 hours

  • preparation courses (including book en review)
  • preparation exam: 32 hours (4 days of 8 hours)


Learning Outcomes

Algemene competenties

  • The students have a thorough knowledge of the key concepts and theories of international relations (IR) and are capable of illustrating the key assumptions and arguments in the discipline through historical and contemporary examples of international political events and processes.
  • They are familiar with the major world political issues.
  • They have the capacity to critically analyse and evaluate publications in the field of international relations.
  • They have the theoretical knowledge which offers them a fundamental insight into the mechanisms and dynamics of international politics and as such offers them the analytical tools for the further study of international relations and/or dealing with international politics in their professional lives.


The final grade is composed based on the following categories:
Written Exam determines 100% of the final mark.

Within the Written Exam category, the following assignments need to be completed:

  • Written Exam with a relative weight of 100 which comprises 100% of the final mark.

Additional info regarding evaluation

In order to stimulate interaction, debate, and reflection, class attendance is mandatory. You are expected to come to class well prepared, to be ready to discuss the reading materials, and to be up to date of new important events in international relations. You can be sure that you will be frequently asked to explain your views about certain issues and to comment on recent developments in world politics.

There will be a closed-book written exam.

Allowed unsatisfactory mark
The supplementary Teaching and Examination Regulations of your faculty stipulate whether an allowed unsatisfactory mark for this programme unit is permitted.

Academic context

This offer is part of the following study plans:
Bachelor of Political Science and Sociology: - afstudeerrichting politieke wetenschappen (only offered in Dutch)
Bachelor of Political Science and Sociology: - afstudeerrichting sociologie, minor politieke wetenschappen (only offered in Dutch)
Bachelor of Political Science and Sociology: Political Science Minor Minor Education (only offered in Dutch)