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School of Politics and International Relations

What are Politics, International Relations and Sociology?

What is Politics?

Political science is an academic discipline with a long history, going back to the ancient Greeks. It uses theoretical frameworks and empirical research, much of which is comparative, to focus on the way in which societies and individuals organise their lives – ideally (but, sadly, not always) in order to avoid violence and to promote the greater good.  Yes, politics is about the distribution of power and resources – ‘who gets, what, when and how’.  But it’s also about expressing our identities and our ideals.  And it’s about making things work, as well as thinking of ways in which things could – and perhaps should – be done differently.  If you’re curious about the world around you, and about how we both compete and cooperate within that world, then studying politics is for you.

What is International Relations?

International Relations is a discipline which seeks to understand the nature of the international order. It uses theoretical frameworks and empirical research to focus on the way in which international ‘actors’ (states, multinational companies, international organisations, social movements) shape and influence this order. It asks questions about the international distribution of distribution of power and resources, but also examines identities, norms and ideals.  It therefore helps us to answer questions such as:  

  • What are the main characteristics of the international order?
  • To what extent is the international order based on conflict or cooperation?
  • How is the global financial crisis affecting international politics?
  • Do foreign military interventions in civil wars help or hinder peace-making?
  • Why are economic resources so unevenly spread across the world, and what are the prospects for global justice?

What is Sociology?

Sociology is an academic discipline that seeks to understand how societies, cultures and relations between people are organised and change. If your answer is ‘yes’ to some of the following questions, then sociology is for you:

  • Are you curious about how our individual lives are connected to global developments like climate change, migration, digital technology and world histories like colonialism, industrialisation, changes in religion?
  • Are you interested in how people create social change in their everyday lives rather than just through political mobilisation and institutions?
  • Are you curious about what holds a society together despite all our differences and how the way we live together changes over time?
  • Do you wish to understand why political institutions and politicians find it so difficult to change culture, environmental habits, values and norms?
  • Are you interested in exploring if societies are mainly about relations between human beings or are they also shaped by how we relate to animals, plants and nature more generally? Does it change the way we seek to shape how we co-exist with others?
  • Do you wish to learn about how gender, class, religious, racial differences continue to shape our relations with each other and how these differences are linked to inequalities, globally as well as locally?
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