a world of theory

The IB Global Politics Guide recommends:

"The Diploma Programme global politics course draws on multiple disciplines in the social sciences. Many theories and analytical approaches have been put forward to further debates in these disciplines. Consequently the course is rich in potential theoretical foundations. Some examples of theoretical foundations that are likely to be helpful throughout the course are provided below; however, different or additional foundations may be relevant depending on the issue at stake.

While the key concepts help students understand interrelated big ideas behind specific political issues, theoretical foundations give students some alternative interpretations of these big ideas advocated by various camps of political debate across time and space. " From the IB Guide.

  1. The IB outlines some theories that you could use but there are also others.

  2. Not every theory is relevant to every section of our course! The main issue is using the wrong theory for the context of an essay.

  3. Some theories are more flexible than others: constructivism, feminism, environmentalism and post-colonialism are more flexible and can be more successfully fitted to different scales and units of the course. Realism, liberalism and Marxism are more specific to certain areas.

  4. Some of the units also have content specific theories.

For example:

  • Unit 1: Theories of international relations

  • Unit 2: Cultural relativism versus universality in human rights

  • Unit 3: Theories of development

  • Unit 4: Galtung's theoretical framework for categorising types of violence.

Realism and liberalism are best applied to Unit 1 and parts of Unit 4 (though you can apply them to specific parts of 2 and 4 as well).

For example, realism is a theory about how states behave. This means it is focused at the scale of international / global, for example about inter-state conflicts. It is not the best theory to use to discuss cultural loss due to globalisation as part of development.

Some prompts for thinking about theories.

  • Which key concepts are central to this theoretical foundation?

  • According to this theoretical foundation, who are the most important actors in global politics?

  • Through the lens of this theoretical foundation, what would a “good” society look like?

  • According to this theoretical foundation, what motivates human behaviour?

  • What view of progress does this theoretical foundation propose?

Useful resources


<- Publicly available book with additional resources on the e-ir.info website.

Other books:


Baylis, John, Patricia Owens, and Steve Smith, eds. The globalization of world politics: An introduction to international relations. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Burchill, Scott, et al. Theories of international relations. 3rd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Dunne, Tim, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, eds. International Relations Theories. Oxford University Press, 2013.