MA International Relations (Standard)

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Critical Military Studies

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI71121
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Aims: The course unit aims to:

Provide students with a broad introduction to the discipline of Critical Military Studies (CMS).  CMS takes a critical look at the role armed forces and processes of militarisation play within domestic political contexts and in broader international society.  Whilst in an era of professional militaries relatively few people are members of the armed forces, militarism maintains a pervasive impact in the culture and practices of societies across the world.  The course explores the function of military and of organised violence, the origins of the modern military and the way it has evolved into the 21st Century.  It looks at the social processes that help to shore up and sustain the military as an institution, the impact of participation in armed conflict, and the way in which political violence is portrayed, justified and remembered. The course invites students to critically consider the relationship between military apparatuses and violence, and asks whether we can or should try to re-imagine a post-military society in the future. 


The critical aspect of CMS is not necessarily to automatically oppose or dismiss the role of the armed forces.  Rather it is to question under-explored or apparently common sense assumptions about the role, history, practices and influence of the military within society.  Consequently, the course reflects a plurality of outlooks and should be of interest to all students wanting to learn more about the security forces, irrespective of their over-arching ethical views on militarisation and political violence.


  • Provide students with an introduction to the different ways in which violence and security are theorised, and how this might shape military practice.
  • Introduce students to the history of the modern military and its evolution to the present day.
  • Invite students to consider the way in which culture is influenced by militarism, by considering its representation in the media, film, music, photography and spoken word.
  • Encourage students to connect practices of militarism with broader structures of identity and power in international politics, such as race and


Learning outcomes

Students should be able to

  • Understand the shifts in military practice, technology, strategy and organisation that have occurred since 1945, and the implications this has had on the conduct and consequences of violent conflict.
  • Demonstrate detailed knowledge and understanding of the different facets of militarisation within society and how the role of the military is sustained, celebrated and remembered.
  • Use their critical capabilities to explore how cultural artefacts and social constructions of gender interact with the military
  • Employ their empathic and reflective skills to consider how political violence and military action are experienced by a variety of different actors and the impacts this has on social and political contexts.
  • Be able to present their views and ideas to others, clearly and succinctly in both written and verbal form

Teaching and learning methods

The weekly seminars provide an opportunity for students to discuss the important themes or concepts and to practice developing their own arguments and exploring those of their classmates.  Seminars will be structured around a specific task, designed to open up space for discussion and debate. 

Depending on the topic in question, this might involve debates, roundtables, role play or ‘flipped classroom’ task where the students report back on a research task that they have prepared in advance.  Seminars will often include prompts for discussion such as film clips and current events. Each week, specific openings will be created in the seminar exercise for students to receive formative feedback relevant to their assessment and to the development of their thinking.



Assessment methods

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

Essay – 75% = 3000 words

Reflective Piece – 25% = 1000 words

Recommended reading

  • Basham, Victoria, Aaron Belkin and Jess Gifkins (2015) “What is Critical Military Studies?”, Critical Military Studies, 1(1), 1-2
  • Basham, Victoria (2013) War, Identity and the Liberal State, London: Routledge
  • Woodward, Victoria and Claire Duncanson (Eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and the Military, Basingstoke: Palgrave
  • Gilmore, Jonathan (2015) The Cosmopolitan Military: Armed Forces and Human Security in the 21st Century, Basingstoke: Palgrave
  • Booth, Ken (Ed.) (2004) Critical Security Studies and World Politics, London: Lynne Rienner
  • Beier, Marshall (Ed.) (2011) The Militarization of Childhood: Thinking Beyond the Global South, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Enloe, Cynthia (2000) Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, Oakland CA: University of California Press
  • Heath-Kelly, Charlotte (2016) Death and Security: Memory and Mortality at the Bombsite, Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Sjoberg, Laura (2014) Gender, War and Conflict, Cambridge: Polity Press
  • Woodward, Rachel (2004) Military Geographies, Oxford: Blackwell
  • Duncanson, Claire (2009) Forces for Good? Military Masculinities and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Edkins, Jenny (2008) Trauma and the Memory of Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Garton-Ash, Timothy and Adam Roberts (2009) Civil resistance and power politics: the experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Shaw, Martin (2005) The new Western way of war: risk-transfer war and its crisis in Iraq, Cambridge, Polity Press
  • Benjamin, Medea (2013) Drone Warfare: Killing by remote control, London: Verso
  • Kaag, John and Sarah Kreps (2014) Drone Warfare, Cambridge: Polity


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jonathan Gilmore Unit coordinator

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