Contemporary International Political Economy

Final year module

Lecturer: Dr Huw Macartney

Scholars point out that if the crux of a crisis is that change is immanent, it may well be premature to label the 'global financial crisis' and the Eurozone 'crisis' as such. Put differently, this course is focused on addressing one overarching puzzle that can be stated as follows: given the severity of the 'crisis' we are living through why has so little changed? Prior to the global financial crash of 2008 – and following 9/11 – many students tended to be interested in security studies and terrorist organisations.

The study of IPE, as was the case for many informed observers in the 'real world', was characterised by what some have called The Great Complacency. Then came the sub-prime crisis and a series of banking collapses of major global financial institutions. In turn, these collapses and the associated state bailout packages contributed to slowed economic output and turned banking crises into sovereign debt crises. From here, these economic dimensions further exacerbated an unfolding but longstanding political crisis confronting Western states. The legitimacy of neoliberalism was further questioned. In short, governments have struggled not simply to kick-start economic growth, but to contain rising social unrest. And yet, the ideas, actors, practices and institutions that led to the crisis continue – for the most part – to remain to the present day.

In the first half of the course, we will address the theoretical aspect to this lack of change. We will take a fairly comprehensive look at the state of IPE as a discipline to examine what it has or has not had to say as the financial crisis hit. We begin by asking big questions about what theory is, what an academic discipline is, and what role they should or should not play in shaping political and social change. 

In the second half of the course we will apply some of these theoretical insights to empirical case studies (the EU and the UK). This part of the course seeks to examine the resilience of neoliberalism, an important factor explaining the type and degree of continuity and change. To re-emphasise, our overarching aim is to explore the role that a political economy analysis has and should have at the current historical conjuncture.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the module the student should be able to:

  • to develop suitable conceptual and theoretical frameworks to ground more substantive understandings of contemporary international economic change; and
  •  to analyse the effects of the interaction between theory and practice in terms of their own interpretation of the changes that they see taking place within the international economy. More specifically, they will also be able:
  • to extend their understanding of the way in which knowledge is formed in IPE beyond the mainstream perspectives to which they were introduced in the second-year linked modules, Introduction to International Political Economy; and
  • to evaluate the competing empirical claims to be found in the existing literature, both in terms of what would constitute evidence that we are living through a period of economic globalisation and whether such evidence is currently forthcoming.


  • Term One 1 x 3,000 word Seminar portfolio
    (comprised of 5 x 600 word briefing papers) (50%)
  • Term Three: 1 x 3,000 word assessed case study (50%)