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MA International Relations (Standard) / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Power and Resistance in Postcolonial Societies

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI60092
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? No


This module looks beyond the confines of traditional International Relations (IR) and its focus on the behaviour of states to focus instead on questions of resistance and power in the context of identity, subjectivity, modernity, particularly as they apply to non-Western places or perspectives conventionally absent from IR. As such, it seeks to bring previously marginalised peoples, places and identities to the forefront of analysis in relation to questions about international politics.


Foregrounding postcolonialism, this course moves beyond both mainstream ‘international relations’, which tends to discuss relations between states or great powers, and ‘Third World Studies’ or ‘Area studies’. These old labels suggest a view of the world as split into the industrialised, developed west and the underdeveloped or developing south – and thus as separated into powerful and less powerful areas – where resistance is associated with the latter and power with the former. What this module will explore is how we can see processes of power and resistance operating globally across so-called developing and developed societies as well as within them, linked in particular to practices of nationalism, development, state formation, religion, and neocolonialism.


  • Consider the origin and aims of postcolonial and decolonial theory and its key concepts such as power, resistance, discipline, development, subjectivity, state, Orientalism, and discourse. 
  • Engage and discuss the chosen concepts through key thinkers including but not limited to Anna M Agathangelou, Gloria Anzaldúa, Asaf Bayat, Arturo Escobar, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Tanja Li, Lily Ling, Mahmood Mamdani, Achille Mbembe, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Walter Mignolo, and Edward Said.
  • Develop students’ oral skills (through general discussion), team-work skills (through a seminar group work), written skills (through the assessed essay), research skills (from the use and assessment of material from an array of sources), and critical and analytical skills.

Learning outcomes

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

  • An understanding of the place of postcolonial and decolonial theory in international politics – its aims and objectives – and the meaning of important concepts such as discourse, power, discipline, subjectivity, orientalism, and resistance. 
  • Be able to understand and express a variety of key ideas and arguments linked to postcolonial / decolonial concerns (such as subjectivity, resistance, discipline, sovereignty, violence, self-determination, inequality, justice, development, modernity, culture) and be able to argue about these with a deeper understanding of their intellectual background and legacy.
  • The ability to question predominant narratives/histories of the nature of the international relations discipline and consider how it has shunned marginal voices and practices
  • An understanding of the structural, socio-economic and psychological conditions that have promoted the emergence of resistance against the post-colonial state, including the types of power that resistance has formed against and the forms of power that resistance constitutes
  • An ability to understand and critically examine historical and ideational structures on which the discipline of international politics is founded which are indebted to colonialism
  • An understanding of new forms of empire as they manifest themselves in practices of intervention (e.g. development, statebuilding, globalisation)
  • An ability to engage with key postcolonial thinkers
  • An ability to apply the arguments and approaches studied to real and hypothetical cases;
  • Oral, teamwork, written, and research skills.

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be delivered in ten two-hour blocks of teaching. In the first three seminars, the conveners will give an introduction to the field and lay out different concepts of power and resistance. Afterwards (in weeks 4-10), students will be involved in leading the discussions and the dissemination of knowledge through group presentations.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written assignment (inc essay) 90%
  1. Essay (2,200 words, 60% of overall mark)

Students will be able to choose between 4 given essay questions.

  1. Portfolio Piece (10%)

This assignment will be linked to one of the early lectures on concepts of power. Students will be asked to consider and discuss how different theories of power are represented in images of their choosing.

  1. Reflection piece (1,000 words, 30%):

Students are asked to reflect on two epistemologically divergent articles on the same topic, which will be provided by the course conveners.


Recommended reading


  • Bloom, Peter. Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
  • Escobar, Arturo. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Duke University Press, 2017
  • Gregory, Derek. The Colonial Present. Blackwell, 2004.
  • Kohn, Margaret and Keally McBride. Political Theories of Decolonization: Postcolonialism and the Problem of Foundations. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo. Decolonization, Development and Knowledge in Africa: Turning over a new leaf. Routledge, 2020.
  • Seth, Sanjay ed. Postcolonial Theory & International Relations: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge, 2012
  • Sharma, Aradhana and Akhil Gupta. The Anthropology of the State: A Reader. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Aoileann Ni Mhurchu Unit coordinator
Sandra Pogodda Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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