Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
International Relations and the Internet
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 20 Hours (10 x 2 hours)


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 1,500 word case study  35%
Semester Assessment 1 x 1,000 word review paper  25%
Semester Assessment 1 x 2,500 word essay  40%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 2,500 word essay if essay element failed  40%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 1,000 word review paper if review paper element failed  25%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 1,500 word case study report if case study report failed  35%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1) demonstrate knowledge of a range of conceptual approaches to technology.
2) identify and critically assess those approaches in political debates about the Internet.
3) develop and apply an appropriate conceptual framework to the study of Internet technology in international politics.
4) demonstrate an awareness of some key debates about new technology in the context of international politics
5) critically analyse some of the ways in which new technology is impacting on state sovereignty, power, democracy, foreign policy and/or national security.
6) Identify key distinctions between technical and political factors in one or more of the case studies.
7) demonstrate grounded empirical knowledge of one or more case studies.


Over the course of the past two decades, much of the world has developed a dependence upon an unsecured, open computer network for communications, financial transactions, military weapons systems, critical infrastructure, commerce and diplomacy. Despite the pervasiveness of the Internet and its importance to a wide range of state functions, we still have little understanding of the implications of this technology for power in the context of International Relations. How does Internet technology relate to other material elements of state power like the economy and the military? What are the implications for social power factors like legitimacy and authority? Why do states adopt different approaches to Internet technology? And does the Internet produce universal outcomes or does its impact on state power differ depending on context? Answers to questions like these are essential to the analysis of what this important new technology means for our understanding of state power in the information age.

This course introduces students to some of the methodological and conceptual tools that researchers are using to investigate these questions. The Philosophy of Technology provides a starting point for a political and social analysis of Internet technology and the first three weeks are spent becoming acquainted with key ideas and thinkers from this field. The course then moves on to apply these concepts to the analysis of three areas of Internet technology that have special relevance for International Relations. Cyber security and cyber war have proven to be especially problematic for states to deal with. In part, this is a technological problem but it is also a significant political problem - particularly for liberal democracies that favour privacy, individual rights and the privatization of critical infrastructure. Internet governance involves the global management of Internet addresses and is currently controlled by a private, non for profit organization based in California. Perhaps not surprisingly, questions of representation, agency and global governance arise from this and are far from resolved. Finally, we turn to network neutrality. Although this has been understood largely as a technical issue, political decisions about this have significant implications for the future control of the Internet and for the distribution of power. We’ll look at how competing approaches are based in broader views about international order.


Seminar 1: International Relations in the Information Age
Seminar 2: Approaches to Technology – Studying Complexity
Seminar 3: The Social Construction of Technology
Seminar 4: Global Cyber (In)Security – What is it?
Seminar 5: Political Impediments to Addressing Cyber Security
Seminar 6: Who Controls the Internet? Global Internet Governance
Seminar 7: Network Neutrality – Public and Private Control of the Internet
Seminar 8: Cyber Power – States and Social Networking Media
Seminar 9: 21st Century Statecraft, Human Rights Online and Internet Freedom
Seminar 10: Conclusion – Int’l Politics in the Information Age

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Some of the empirical material in each of the focus studies is presented in a statistical format allowing for historical comparison and analysis.
Communication Students will learn how to present their ideas both verbally and in writing and how to assert themselves to advantage. They will understand the importance of information and clear communication and how to exploit these. They will learn to be clear and direct about aims and objectives in both their written work and orally during class discussions. They will learn to consider only that which is relevant to the topic, focus and objectives of their argument or discussion. Each seminar will have a component of group discussion based on guided questions with an emphasis on student participation and effective communication. The three assessment pieces require distinct writing styles and will help the students to develop an understanding of the range of ways in which academic findings can be communicated.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management but within a context of assistance from both the convenor and the fellow students alike. Students will be expected to improve their own learning and performance by undertaking their own research and to exercise their own initiative, including searching for sources, compiling reading lists, and deciding (under guidance) the direction of their essay and case study report. The need to prepare for seminars and to meet an essay deadline will focus students' attention on the need to manage their time and resources well.
Information Technology This module has a significant information technology component but not one that requires advanced technical knowledge. A fundamental element of the research the students will undertake in this module involves questioning dominant assumptions about information technology and developing an understanding of the range of choices societies make about technology. In addition, the students will be introduced to some online search tools that will enrich their capacity for independent research beyond this particular module. Finally, students will be expected to submit their work in word-processed format demonstrating an appropriate use of desktop tools.
Personal Development and Career planning Perhaps most importantly, the material the students will be exposed to in this module should serve to make them aware of a range of relatively new and rapidly growing career options in global telecommunications policy, cyber security, Internet governance, foreign policy of ICT and foreign aid through technology. In addition, the seminar discussions will help to develop students’ verbal and presentation skills. Enhancing their written communications skills through the three assessment pieces will ensure they are aware of the range of expectations of writing and presenting ideas. Learning about the process of planning an essay and a case study report, framing the parameters of the projects, honing and developing the projects and seeing through to completion will contribute towards their portfolio of transferable skills.
Problem solving Independent project work and problem solving will be one of the central goals of the module; the submission of an essay will require that the student develops independent research skills as well as problem solving skills. The need to research and prepare seminar contributions will also enable the student to develop independent project skills. The ability of students to solve problems will be developed and assessed by asking them to: identify a range of political approaches to the technological issues they study, adopt differing points of view; organize data and draw conclusions from it; consider extreme cases; reason logically; engage with theory; consider similar cases; look for patterns; divide issues into smaller problems.
Research skills The submission of a review paper, an essay and a case study report will reflect the independent research skills of the student. The review paper will help the students develop their capacity to critically assess theoretical material. The essay and the case study both require some (directed) independent research on a case study of the student's choice. They will be introduced to a number of online information services that will be useful not only in researching for this module but more broadly in future research projects. Research preparation for seminars will also enable the student to develop independent project skills.
Subject Specific Skills Students have the opportunity to develop, practice and test a wide range of subject specific skills that help them to understand, conceptualise and evaluate examples and ideas on the module. These subject specific skills include: • Collect and understand a wide range of data relating to the module • Ability to critically evaluate competing perspectives • Demonstrate subject specific research techniques • Apply a range of methodologies to complex strategic problems
Team work Seminars will consist in part of small-group discussion where students will be obliged to discuss as a group the core issues related to seminar topics. Such class room debates and discussions are a vital component of the module and provide students with opportunities to cooperate and negotiate in the context of sometimes competing ideas.


This module is at CQFW Level 7