MA Human Rights - Political Science (Standard Route) / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Governing in an Unjust World: Justice and International Relations

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI60182
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The first part of the course looks, first, at whether two important moral and political categories – namely social/distributive justice and democracy –, which are normally used to assess the performance of state institutions, apply beyond borders. Are there valid claims of social justice and democratic accountability in the international sphere? Why / why not? Are they the same that apply within borders? And do they simply set standards to evaluate existing international institutions, or do they also ground a case for the establishment of new institutions altogether? We shall then move on to considering how these questions play out in crucial areas of economic policy, namely international trade; taxation; global labour standards and supply chains; and global finance. In so doing, it will become ever more apparent how “governing an unjust world” might be in tension with the principle of state sovereignty.

The final part of the course is then particularly focused on whether the existence of sovereign states hinders, in a non-ideal world, the pursuit of justice, and whether state sovereignty can, and should, be curtailed. After having outlined the concept of state sovereignty and assessed various arguments for and against it, the course looks at applied issues that have important implications for governing an unjust world, and which are to some extent in tension with state sovereignty: (1) on what basis, if any, sovereign states can be holders of a right to exclusive use of resources; (2) how necessary responses to climate change affect sovereign power; and (3) whether sovereignty grounds a state’s right to admit or refuse entry to non-members. 


Questions of global justice, democracy, and legitimacy are at the forefront of both current political affairs and debates in contemporary political theory. In this course we shall become acquainted with these theoretical debates and learn how to use them in order to develop reasoned, informed views on some of the most pressing problems of global politics, such as global labour standards; world trade; migration; tax avoidance; climate change; humanitarian intervention; terrorism; and how state sovereignty should be conceived of in the contemporary global order. In so doing, we shall both assess existing international institutions, and think of new possible institutional solutions to address pressing global problems.


Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Articulate the contents and underlying assumptions of various approaches to international justice and democracy.
  • Employ a rigorous analytical approach in critically evaluating the key theories tackled in the course.
  • Draw on normative theories to develop their own informed views on concrete questions that are prominent in current global affair.
  • Sketch, on that basis, institutional and policy proposals.

Teaching and learning methods

Sessions will be structured as follows. The first 60/75 minutes will consist of a seminar discussion on the topic addressed during the previous week’s lecture. Students will be required to have done all the compulsory reading previous to the seminar, and are encouraged to do some of the recommended and further reading. The seminar will normally start with an ice-breaking activity and be structured around the discussion group question. Some discussion in smaller groups might also take place. The last 45/60 minutes will be taken up by an interactive, introductory lecture on the topic of the following week.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

3000 word assessed essay 75%; seminar and Slack participation 25%.

Recommended reading

The following texts offer a good place to start

  • Caney, Simon, ‘International Distributive Justice’, Political Studies 49 (2001)
  • Pogge, Thomas, World Poverty and Human Rights, Polity, 2002
  • Iris Marion Young, “Responsibility and Global Labour Justice,” Journal of Political Philosophy (2004);
  • P. Dietsch and T. Rixen, “Tax Competition and Global Background Justice,” Journal of Political Philosophy (forthcoming, available at:;

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Juri Viehoff Unit coordinator
Miriam Ronzoni Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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