Spring 2020 - IS 451 D100

Seminar on Core Texts in International Studies (4)

Class Number: 7508

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 9:30 AM – 1:20 PM
    HCC 1325, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    90 units. International Studies major or honours students.



An interdisciplinary course which aims to bring together different disciplinary perspectives on international affairs through the study of influential texts which, between them, involve study of core themes to the program: development, governance and civil society, war and peace, human rights and questions of culture and ethnicity.


Students of International Studies face the opportunity and challenge of reading across many fields of expertise to harness the best ideas and knowledge possible for addressing their particular interests. This course is designed as an opportunity to read thoroughly and critically a select number of texts that have proven influential across the social sciences and beyond academia. We will read these texts to improve our understanding of major political, economic, and social transformations and their implications. Moreover, we will focus on reading books to hone our appreciation of what can be learned when the longer form of an argument (e.g. a book) is digested.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of International Studies, there is no established cannon of what are its ‘core texts’. For this class, I have selected 6 books, including 2 works of literary fiction, that will challenge us to navigate through differences in substance and style to develop multifaceted analyses. These texts will allow us to study major topics in the field, including: histories of state formation and underpinning logics of governance; processes and experiences of colonialism; the rise and spread of capitalism, neoliberalism, and inequality; aspirations and threats to democracy; international politics of fossil fuels; realities of war in the twenty-first century; and questions of identity and belonging in an unevenly globalized world of transnational migration and cultural production.


There are several goals for this course, including: students will: (i) deepen their understandings of major ideas and theoretical strands in international studies and other internationally-oriented disciplines; (ii) enhance their substantive knowledge of modern and contemporary historical forces shaping international affairs; (iii) develop their ability to read different kinds of texts critically; and (iv) develop their skills in critically analysing texts and ideas in written and oral forms.

This course is reading-intensive: expect to read for several hours (e.g. 120 pages) every single week. The course will be organized as a mix of lectures and seminars with a strong emphasis on group discussions and collaborative learning.


  • In-class participation 20%
  • Short essay on Seeing Like a State (1000 words) 10%
  • Short essay on Brief History of Neoliberalism (1000 words) 10%
  • Essay on Carbon Democracy (2000 words) 20%
  • Essay on Shadows of War (2000 words) 20%
  • Essay on Things Fall Apart and Looking for Transwonderland (2000 words) 20%


Students will be required to submit their written assignments to Turnitin.com in order to receive credit for the assignments and for the course.

The School for International Studies strictly enforces the University's policies regarding plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Information about these policies can be found at: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching.html.



* Everyone will be reading all of these books and must bring copies to class so that we can easily refer to specific passages in our discussions. Each book’s ISBN is listed below so that all students can try to obtain the same edition (publisher and year) so that we are able to refer to specific passages on specific pages.

1. Scott, James. 1999. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. ISBN-10: 0300078153 

2. Achebe, Chinua. 2009. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Canada. ISBN-10: 0385667833

3. Harvey, David. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press. ISBN-10: 0199283273

4. Mitchell, Timothy. 2013. Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. Verso. ISBN-10: 1781681163

5. Nordstrom, Carolyn. 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN-10: 0520242416

6. Saro-Wiwa, Noo. 2012. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. Soft Skull Press. ISBN-10: 9781619020078

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html