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A world of whose making?

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How can we best understand and analyse international developments such as the role of the World Trade Organisation, the power of the USA, the rise of China and India, or contests over religion, culture and rights? What are the main features of international order, how are they changing, and what can we expect in the future? This interdisciplinary course provides the tools of political and economic analysis needed to answer such questions. You will also review and debate the power politics of dominant states; struggles for rights and justice; economic and technological developments; and how world order is changing.

Modules at Level 3 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2013.

What you will study

The course is divided in two halves, drawing throughout on a wide range of voices from different parts of the world. The first half aims to provide a thorough understanding of the basic concepts and theories of politics and economics that bear on international affairs. This involves a serious engagement with the theories, formal models and at times, simple numerical examples used by economists and political scientists to understand international economics and politics. It also encompasses an appreciation of the range of different standpoints from which knowledge of the international system is produced and evaluated. Indeed, with this latter aspect in mind, scholars from outside the English-speaking North Atlantic arena have written much of the first half. The teaching is set in context by a series of substantive investigations of different aspects of international affairs.

The first half begins with a consideration of the role of the World Trade Organisation, especially in relation to developing countries, and looks critically at the arguments for freer trade and the relationship between rules and power in ordering international relations. The course then asks how political and economic changes within countries serve to define their interests and position within the international system and does this from the vantage point of economic growth and liberalisation in India. It then looks at the spectacular economic growth in both India and China and the debates about what stimulates growth. Next, the course examines issues of inequality, bargaining and power between countries, by looking at relations between Mexico and the United States. Questions of economic and political dependence and sovereignty are studied through the case of aid and conditionality, in relation to African states. Finally, the scope for collective action among states is investigated by considering the successes and failures of international action in relation to a number of problems including global climate change.

The second half begins with an analysis of the political dimensions of the international system, focusing on the role of states and the workings of the states-system. In particular it looks at the role of the USA in international order and the challenges facing the USA since the election of President Obama. The course then scrutinizes questions of cultural difference and conflict, and universal ideas of rights and justice. It then considers international inequality and technological change, and the role of technology in shaping international interactions. The latter focuses on the rise of networks in international politics including terrorist and campaigning networks. It concludes with a critical examination of contemporary theories of international order.

Throughout the second half, the course is concerned with examining three major questions. Is it possible to analyse the international system as a whole? How can we best characterise, understand and explain the processes of international interaction and the kinds of order and disorder with which they are associated? Is the international system changing and, if so, by whose agency? These themes and questions are addressed by looking at a range of contemporary issues such as the changing character of the international political order, and the role of the major powers like the United States; the contested role of culture, rights and justice in international relations; Islam and the West; and ideas of a ‘global’ cosmopolitan culture; the inequalities of income and technological development across the world and the possibility that network forms of organisation are bringing about a new kind of international order.

The course concludes with an examination of mainstream models of international order and critical perspectives on the changing character of the international system as a whole.

Vocational relevance

This course provides a sophisticated understanding of the processes and players that shape the contemporary international system, and a knowledge of key aspects of international affairs. It offers an interdisciplinary view of the international order, drawing widely from the social sciences. As such, it is an invaluable guide to those interested in making sense of contemporary international developments and wishing to analyse and evaluate questions of public policy and action in this increasingly important sphere. This makes the course especially valuable if you work in any organisation, public or private, that operates internationally or seeks to influence public policy and debate on international matters.


DU301 is a Level 3 course. Level 3 courses build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

As this is a Level 3 course, we expect that you will already have studied one or more Level 2 courses at The Open University and will therefore have the necessary skills to study this course. If you have not already studied at Level 2, then you should consult the Faculty of Social Sciences for information about the level of competence expected on entry to Level 3 courses. A useful prior course, especially if you are seeking the BA (Hons) International Studies degree, is International development: making sense of a changing world (TD223).


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

This course includes economics diagrams, graphs, charts and tables of data. The set work will ask you to produce diagrams, graphs and some data analysis. Some of the computing elements are in the form of animated tutorials that have a high visual content. Many elements of this course are delivered online and through CD-ROMs.  If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet and have concerns about accessing this type of material you are advised to talk to the Student Registration & Enquiry Service about support which can be given to meet your needs. 

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the printed course materials are available, although some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Transcripts are available for any audio-visual material. The printed course material is available in comb-bound format and as audio in the DAISY Digital Talking Book format. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about the availability of alternative formats.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Course books, audio CDs, website and CD-ROMs containing software which you will need to install on your computer.

You will need

Audio CD player.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the course.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this course can be found in the facts box above.

You can choose whether to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) on paper or online through the eTMA system. You may want to use the eTMA system for some of your assignments but submit on paper for others. This is entirely your choice.

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in October 2013 when it will be available for the last time. It will be replaced by International relations: continuity and change in global politics (DD313) in October 2014.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“A challenging but very rewarding course. Tutor made everything very easy. This course got me craving for both economics and ...”
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“I took this course as it was a compulsory option for the International Studies degree programme. It is a fascinating ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code DU301
Credits 60
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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