MA International Relations (Standard) / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Power and Resistance in Postcolonial Societies

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 theory and its key concepts such as discourse, power, discipline, subjectivity, state, Orientalism, and resistance. 
  • Engage and discuss the chosen concepts through key thinkers including but not limited to Anna M Agathangelou, Gloria Anzaldúa, Asaf Bayat, Homi Bhabha, Arturo Escobar, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Tanja Li, Lily Ling, Mahmood Mamdani, 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 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 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
  • 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. Online Group engagement 10% 

2. Critical Reflection 1,200 words 30% 

3. Essay 2,500 words 60% 


Recommended reading

Indicative reading:

·         Bloom, Peter. Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

·         Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton University Press, 1995

·         Gregory, Derek. The Colonial Present. Blackwell, 2004.

·         Seth, Sanjay ed. Postcolonial Theory & International Relations: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge, March 2012

·         Sharma, Aradhana and Akhil Gupta. The Anthropology of the State: A Reader. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.


Introductory Texts: 


·         Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. [A volume often credited with beginning postcolonialism as a branch of literary studies: interesting mainly for that reason.]

  • Edkins, Jenny and Zehfuss, Maja eds. Global Politics: A New Introduction. (London: Routledge, 2008) [A UG textbook but useful to look at]

·         Loomba, A. 1998 Colonialism/Postcolonialism. Routledge. [Though based in literary studies again, this is a useful introduction to the scope of the field and the debates within it. Very introductory.]



·         Ni Mhurchu, A and Shindo, S. (2016) Critical Imaginations in International Relations (Routledge)

·         Edkins, Jenny. Poststructuralism and International Relations (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 1999) [gives an overview of poststructural, psychoanalytic approaches, genealogy and deconstruction for those who haven’t encountered these areas before.]

·         Edkins, Jenny, and Nick Vaughan-Williams, ed. Critical Theorists in International Relations. (London: Routledge, 2009) [An edited volume that contains chapters introducing a wide range of theorists, including Said, Fanon, Bhabha and Spivak]

  • Sankaran Krishna, Globalization & Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the Twenty-first Century. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. [Not a reader or edited volume, but a very useful survey of the field.]
  • Persram, Nalini. ed. Postcolonialism and Political Theory, (Lexington Books, 2007) [Examines how postcolonialism can speak back to political theory.]
  • Riley, Robin R., and Naeem Inayatullah, eds. Interrogating Imperialism: Conversations on Gender, race and War. (Palgrave, 2006) [Focuses on US imperialism in the ‘war on terror’, particularly feminist scholarship]
  • Shilliam, R. ed. International Relations and Non-Western Thought: Imperialism, Colonialism and Investigations of Global Modernity. (Routledge, 2011). [Chapters explore !the global imperial and colonial context within which knowledge of modernity has been developed."]

·         Williams, Patrick, and Laura Chrisman. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993

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


Monday 2-4

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