Core Subject: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy

Course content

The aim of the course is to offer a comprehensive introduction to the theory and practice of foreign policy.


The course enhances the students’ ability to think critically and to combine complex theories with insights from the contemporary political world. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, to discuss and evaluate competing claims, and to write in concise and clear manner engaging with theory and practice in foreign policy. The course will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.


The first part of the course introduces foreign policy and foreign policy analysis and provides a basic knowledge of the foreign policy vocabulary. We explore the historical context and the changing conditions for doing foreign policy.


The second part of the course focuses on major theoretical perspectives on international relations: Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the three perspectives and their applicability for understanding different aspects of foreign policy. We work on how to apply the theories to contemporary cases such as Russian foreign policy, US foreign policy and German foreign policy.


The third part of the course zooms in on theoretical alternatives. We discuss the critical and analytical potential of discourse analysis and feminism and explore the bridge building potential of perspectives such as role theory, neoclassical realism and practice theory. We use EU foreign policy, Nordic foreign policy and the US-Russia relationship to explore the analytical potential and challenges of these perspectives.


The fourth part of the course zooms in on foreign economic policy, the hard foreign economic policy (sanctions, unilateralism and trade war), the soft foreign economic policy (incentives, persuasion and sustainable development) and development policy. We discuss the theoretical foundations for analyzing foreign economic policy and apply them to US and EU trade policy, and the policies of EU and China towards developing countries.


The fifth part of the course discusses diplomacy, both the classical diplomacy and new diplomatic challenges.


The sixth part of the course explores foreign policy in the (post-)American world order. We discuss the foreign policy of the US superpower, the challenges from Russia and China and the role of rising powers such as Brazil, India and South Africa. We explore how small states and middle powers in general and the Nordic countries in particular seek to pursue their interests and spread their values in the current international order.


Students will choose their own paper topics within the overall thematic of the course and discuss these with other students and a supervisor in two paper workshops.



This is the core course for the core subject line ‘Foreign policy’ Only accessible to students who are admitted to Foreign Policy.


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

Learning outcome


Demonstrate knowledge of the theories and concepts of foreign policy analysis.

Understand core institutions and diplomatic processes involved in contemporary foreign policy making and practices, in relation to specific cases, including small state diplomacy, militarization of foreign policy, globalization and foreign economic policy, bureaucratization of foreign policy and value-based foreign policy.



Demonstrate informed, convincing and precise knowledge of foreign policy, including relevant literature review, theoretical debates and empirical analysis. 

Make informed, analytical evaluations of different approaches to the study of foreign policy and their applicability to historical and contemporary examples of foreign policy.



Critically reflect upon key contemporary issues and developments in contemporary foreign policy trade in the light of relevant historical, theoretical and methodological considerations.

Translate knowledge about theories and concepts of foreign policy into concrete empirical analysis and identify opportunities and challenges for foreign policy change.

A mix of in-class lectures, student group work, invited guest-lectures, student workshops and class discussions. Active student participation is expected.

Primarily journal articles and book chapters on the theory and practice of foreign policy. The reading list will be an adjusted version of the 2020 reading list taking into account the experience of the lecturers as well as student feedback on the texts and reflecting current developments and issues in foreign policy theory and practice.



Hellmann, G./Jørgensen, K.E. (eds.) 2015 Theorizing Foreign Policy in a Globalized World. Basingstoke, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan


Smith, Steve/Hadfield, Amelia/Dunne, Timothy (eds.) 2016: Foreign Policy. Theories, Actors, Cases. Oxford: University Press


Hill, Christopher (2015). Foreign policy in the twenty-first century. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Admission to the Master’s programme in Political Science.

Basic knowledge of International Relations theory is expected.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Feedback activities include group and class discussions with feedback from lecturer and peers, cluster seminars, where students present drafts of part of their free assignment and receive feedback from peers and lecturer. After the exam, students are welcome to schedule an appointment for feedback on their paper.

Type of assessment
Written examination
Free assignment
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
  • 56
  • English
  • 56


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Anders Wivel   (2-6f854e7774813c79833c7279)

Anders Wivel
Martin Marcussen
Jens Ladefoged Mortensen

Saved on the 29-04-2021

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