COURSE: Sociological Approaches in International Relations

Course content

Twenty years ago, constructivism rose within the discipline of International Relation (IR) as the main challenger of rational theory (liberalism and realism).  Instead of approaching the world as a given as do rationalism, constructivism defended a position that can be summarized by the two following claims: the social constructions of knowledge and the social construction of reality (Guzzini 2000, 149). Nowadays, constructivists are firmly established within IR discipline, which geared the theoretical attention of the discipline to the role of social construction. In so doing, constructivism has opened the door for IR to develop richer analytical frameworks through disciplinary borrowing from the field of sociology. In that spirit, the International Studies Association has sought to engage deeper with sociology and social theory by creating in 2007 an International Political Sociological section as well as the journal of International Political Sociology. In light of these recent developments within the discipline of IR, the course explores how sociology has contributed to IR theory and the study of world politics. The course is divided in three parts. The first part addresses early constructivist work to understand how constructivism challenged mainstream IR theory and opened the doors to sociological approaches. The second part looks at sociological theories in IR by through both scholarship in sociology and IR. Finally the last part addresses privileged concrete empirical objects for sociology and IR. 


Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome

After the completion of the class, the student should a) be able to critically engages with scientific work that are at the intersection between international theory and sociology, b) be able to critically assess the merits and limits to approach international relations from a sociological point of view 3) have the capacity to formulate research questions that open the door to sociological approach in international relations 4) be able to make informed analysis of the constructivist literature.


Assessment is conducted according to the regulations of the Department of Political Science. Please see the relevant documentation for details. New departmental regulations require that courses are examined by a single mode of assessment. This course is examined via Oral assignment. Details of this mode of assessment and the expectations in relation to this course will be given in class.

1. Introduction  

2. Constructivism in IR

  • Hollis, Martin and Steve Smith, Explaining and Understanding in International Relations (Oxford University Press, 1990) : 1-15, 45-91.

  • Adler, Emanuel, “Constructivism and International Relations: Sources, Contribution, and Debates,” Handbook of International Relations edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse and Beth A. Simmons (London: SAGE Publications, 2013) : 112-145.

  • Fearon, James, and Alexander Wendt. "Rationalism v. Constructivism: A Skeptical View," Handbook of International Relations edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse and Beth A. Simmons (London: SAGE Publications, 2002): 52–72.

(113 pages)

3. Pioneer 1: Alexander Wendt

  • Wendt, Alexander. "The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory." International Organization 41, no. 3 (1987): 335–370.

  • Wendt, Alexander. "Anarchy is What States Make of It : the Social Construction of Power Politics," International Organization 46, no. 02 (1992) : 391-425

  • Wendt, Alexander. "On Constitution and Causation in International Relations," Review of International Studies 24, no. 05 (1998): 101–118

(86 pages)

4. Pioneer 2:  John Gerrad Ruggie

  • Ruggie, John G. “International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order,” International Organization 36, no. 2 (1982): 379–415.

  • Ruggie, John G. “What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-Utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge,” International Organization 52 (1998): 855-885.

  • Ruggie, John G., “Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations,” International Organization 46, no.1 (1993), 139–174.

(91 pages)

5. The role of interactions

  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. (The University of Chicago Press, 1992) : 1-47

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. (New York: New York University press, 1977) 1-10.

(47 pages)

6.  An interactionist approach of international relations

  • Mérand, Frédéric. European Defence Policy beyond the Nation State. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) : 113-135.

  • Adler Nissen, Rebecca. ‘Symbolic Power in European diplomacy. The struggle between nation foreign services and the EU’s External Action Service,” Review of International Studies. 1-25.

  • Sending, Ole Jacob, The Politics of Expertise: Competing for Authority in Global Governance (University of Michigan Press, 2015): 1-41.

 (86 pages)

7. The power of discourse

  • Foucault, Michel,"The discourse on Language" in The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (New York : Pantheon Books, 1972) : 215-230.

  • Foucault, Michel, Disciplined and Punished. New York . (Vintage Books, 1995) : 1-31.

(44 pages)

8.  The role of discourse in international relations  

  • Hansen, Lene. Security as Practice : Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War. London; New York: Routledge, 2006 : 84-101.

  • Hall, Rodney Bruce. "The Discursive Demolition of the Asian Development Model". International Studies Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2003): 71–99.

  • Tannenwald, Nina. ‘The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use’. International Organization 53, no. 03 (1999): 433–468.

(80 pages)

9. Governmentality

  • Foucault, Michel, Security, Territory, population: lectures at the Collège de France (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) : 126-145.

  • Miller, Peter and Nikolas Rose, 2008, Governing the Present (Cambridge : Polity Press, 2008) : 1-51.

    (69 pages)

10. The “governmentalisation” of international relations

  • Neumann and Sending, “Governance to Governmentality: Analyzing NGOs, States, and Power,” 2006, International Studies Quarterly : 651-672.

  • Knafo, Samuel, The Making of Global Finance: Liberal Governance and the Gold Standard. New YorkRoutledge : 1-58.

(78 pages)

11. International System

  • Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. (Beacon Press, 2001) : 3-30.

  • Reus-Smit, Christian, The Moral Purpose of the State (Princeton University Press, 1999) : 3-11, 26-39.

  • Branch, Jordan. ‘Mapping the Sovereign State: Technology, Authority, and Systemic Change’. International Organization 65, no. 01 (January 2011): 1–36.

(83 pages)

12: International Organisations

  • Barnett, Michael, and Martha Finnemore. Rules For the World: International Organization in Global Politics. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004) : 16-72.

  • Sending, Ole Jacob, The Politics of Expertise: Competing for Authority in Global Governance (University of Michigan Press, 2015) : 44-108.

(120 pages)

13. International Markets


  • MacKenzie, Donald. An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008) : 37-88.

  • Fourcade, Marion, 2006, “The construction of a Global Profession. The Transnationalization of Economics,” American Journal of Sociology 112, vol 1 :145-194.

(100 pages)

(998 pages)

14. Conclusion

Students should have a good knowledge of international relations theory. Students should also come to class having done the required reading for each week’s work and should participate fully in the various discussion and other exercises that will take place in class. Students will also be asked alternately to prepare reflexive reading note prior to come to class.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28