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MPhil International Relations

The MPhil in International Relations is a two-year (21-month) course which offers intellectually rigorous training in the recent history of world politics, theoretical approaches to the study of International Relations and a plurality of research methods.

The course equips students with the skills they require to undertake research and study at an advanced level and also to undertake many forms of professional work in the field. This MPhil is a very popular course, attracting students from the world’s leading institutions. Entry is competitive and students come from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities.

The Department is internationally recognised as a leader in research in International Relations and is home to the Centre for International Studies.

Component Assessment
Year one A 20-week core course on the Development of the International System since 1900 and in Contemporary Debates in International Relations TheoryA written examination on the core course at the end of the first year
Research Design and Approaches to Research in International RelationsA test in quantitative, formal and qualitative methods, as well as the submission of coursework and a research design proposal as preparation for the thesis
Year two Two optional coursesWritten examinations in your chosen two subjects
Research and write thesisSubmission of a thesis of no more than 30,000 words

Optional Courses

The courses offered vary from year to year, depending on students’ research interests and the availability of faculty. The Department cannot guarantee, therefore, that a particular course will be run in any given year. In recent years the following courses have been offered:

Second-year Optional Subjects

Availability of optional subjects in academic year 2018-19:

  1. The European Union in Crisis
  2. US Foreign Policy: Processes and Challenges
  3. International Security and Strategic studies
  4. The International Relations of East Asia
  5. The international Relations of South Asia
  6. The International Relations of the Developing and Post-Colonial World
  7. Nationalism and Internationalism in the Modern World Order
  8. The Making of Modern International Society
  9. Collective Political Violence
  10. The USSR and Russia in International Relations since 1945
  11. Beyond Religion and Politics in Israel

Research Methods Options

(i) Monday of Noughth week, Michaelmas Term

All elements of the Induction Programme.

Note: there is an optional ‘R ‘Workshop on the Thursday and Friday of 0th Week.


(ii) Michaelmas Term

(1) Research Design and Approaches to Research in International Relations.

In Michaelmas term the RDM course is taught in two parts. The first consists of series of lectures, taken together with Politics students.

Lecture series (Michaelmas Term)

  • Lecture 1:        Introduction to Comparative Political Science
  • Lecture 2:        Concepts and Indicators
  • Lecture 3:        Small-N Comparisons: Strengths and Pitfalls
  • Lecture 4:        Process Tracing in Case Study Research
  • Lecture 5:        Causal Inference and the Credibility Revolution
  • Lecture 6:        Quantitative Analysis: Strengths and Pitfalls
  • Lecture 7:        Method Triangulation
  • Lecture 8:        Research Design in Comparative Political Science

In addition, there are three IR-specific classes (with the first-year IR cohort divided into two MPhil groups and one PRS). They cover: Topic selection and concept specification; large-n research; and mixed methods and case selection. The core purpose is to link with the general issues discussed in the lectures by focusing on two or three concrete pieces of actual IR research.

(2)  Statistics. 

This is taught on the base of a mixture of lectures and labs at both Introductory and Intermediate levels. Students are requirement to self-select into one of these levels. Assessment will be via assignments within the course. You will receive an email notification from the DPIR asking you to indicate your choice between Statistical Methods and Intermediate Statistics. If you fail to reply to that email you will be automatically enrolled in Introduction to Statistics. You must bring your own device to the lab sessions.


(iii) Hilary Term:

(1) Research Design and Approaches to Research in IR.

The class will be led each week by a faculty member, with the convener providing discussion of the links between the various topics. The aim is to provide an overview of some of the major approaches to research in International Relations; to familiarizes students with debates and controversies in the field; and to explore the methodological and analytic issues underlying them. Topics will include: Approaches to the Study of International Orders; Intellectual history in IR and critical theoretical approaches to the study of discourse; Studying Ideas and Ideology in International Relations; International Normative Theory and Ethics; Models, Simple Game Theory; Applications of Rationalist Approaches; International History and International Relations; Global History and Global Historical Research in International Relations.

(2) At least one of the research methods long courses: Qualitative Methods for Political Science; Causal Inference; Formal Analysis; Reasoning in Political Theory.


(iv) Hilary and Trinity Terms

Students are required to take at least one short course option (Trinity Term) from the list advertised in Michaelmas Term. It is strongly advised that students also consider taking one of the 8-week courses in Hilary Term.


(v) All Terms

All IR students are expected to participate in the Oxford IR Research Colloquium. It involves research presentations by faculty, senior researchers, academic visitors and DPhil students). The Department attracts many of the world’s leading figures in International Relations -- as visiting scholars, speakers in the regular IR Colloquium, and participants in research conferences and workshops, often organized via the Centre for International Studies.

For details of the assessed coursework and tests you must do on these courses are detailed in the Student Hanbook and the relevant course outlines.

If you are undertaking fieldwork as part of your research, you should consider taking the short Trinity Term course on Area Studies Research for Politics and International Relations, or, at least, the week of this course devoted to Fieldwork Safety.


(vi) MPhil Thesis Seminar (Second Year: Michaelmas Term)

Students are required to give a presentation on their emerging thesis research.

In addition, a wide range of other lectures, classes and seminars is available covering both specific research methods and more general issues.

Some MPhil students may also need training in additional skills (e.g. languages). All MPhil students should discuss their specific research training requirements with their supervisor and, if necessary, with the Director of Research Training, the MPhil Course Director or the Director of Graduate Studies.


The MPhil thesis is a substantial piece of research presented in a 30,000 word thesis, which demonstrates a grasp of a particular sub-field, a set of design and methodological issues, and the ability to develop and sustain an independent line of argument.

Some recent thesis titles include:

  • Fragmentation & Consolidation in the Shadow of External Powers: Lebanese Identity and Foreign Policy, 1991-2005
  • Explaining Lithuania's Policy on EU Accession, 1991-2002
  • The Politics of the World Bank Inspection Panel
  • Costly Brotherhood: How to Explain Russia's Relationship with Belarus in 1994-2004
  • Stalemate: U.S. Policy Toward Iran, 1979-2001
  • The capacity of conditionality to empower: the streamlining of IMF and World Bank conditionality and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals
  • ‘Securitising’ the asylum-seeker? A study of official discourse on asylum in the UK and Australia since 9/11
  • "The Beijing Consensus on Growth: China's Newest Export?"
  • The Currency of Defeat: Asymmetric Warfare Theory and Israel's Loss of the War in Lebanon
  • ASEAN Intervention in the Cambodian Conflict, 1978-1998
  • From the NPT to Ottawa: the Changing Face of Multilateral Arms Control
  • The Balance of Power and Security Order in Post-Cold War Asia
  • ‘YOU SAY TOMATO’ An enquiry into the relationship between collective preferences and trade
  • The Meaning, Evolution, and Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect, 2001-2005
  • Suicide from fear of death”? The changing logic of preventive war 1945-2004
  • Pursuit of a Doctrine: The First Clinton Presidency 1993-1997

Read more about International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Relations