Syllabus for “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies”

I am writing this from Oaxaca, Mexico, a beautiful colonial center in southern Mexico. Because of Oaxaca’s altitude, it’s never too hot here, it’s far from the drug violence in the north, and it’s known for outstanding archeological sites (including Monte Alban, Mitla and the lesser-known Yagul). While my wife does fieldwork on Pentecostal healing, with endless church services and interviews, I am sampling the cuisine, bookstores, and pool. I’m also planning for my fall quarter, when I will be teaching a course, “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies,” for the first time.

The intent of the course was to introduce students to the key theories that underpin our discipline. The faculty in my program agreed that it should begin with such foundational theories as liberalism and Marxism, then move on to various post-structuralist theories, such as critical theory, postcolonialism and feminism. Because I began my career as a military historian, of course I also want to cover security. And I need to cover theories of development, the Green Movement, and globalization. I’m also interested in the work of Joseph Tainter, and his book The Collapse of Complex Societies, which I believe to be relevant to discussions of everything from Peak Oil to the 2008 financial collapse. So I end the course by looking at theories of collapse. Of course, the challenge with this course is to include everything. Appadurai’s “scapes” are in, because I believe that they are central to a discussion of globalization. But that means that I’ve had to take out a discussion of global citizenship.

I’ve decided to share my draft syllabus, then I will share my experience of the class in the fall. But I’d love to hear any suggestions that anyone else might have, or thoughts on how you would teach the class to reflect what’s important to your program and students.

INTL 390

Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies

Prof. Shawn Smallman

Rm XXX, East Hall

Description: This course is designed to introduce students to the leading schools of thought in Global and International Studies, from foundational theories to contemporary post-structuralism. The course will also use case studies, so that students may see how different theoretical frameworks may be applied to the same global issue.

Learning Outcomes: The students in the course will:

  1. Gain an understanding of a number of key ideas and theoretical approaches for analyzing and interpreting global social and cultural realities.
  2. Learn to analyze and evaluate competing theories.
  3. Ability to apply one or more of these theoretical frameworks to analyze a concrete problem or case.

Basis for Grade:

Midterm Exam 25%: This will be an on-line exam students will complete in D2L on Friday of week five.

Book Review: 25%: (due at 5pm on Friday of week four). Students will write a five to seven page review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe.

Participation: 25%: Class discussion is an integral part of the course.  Accordingly, students are expected to come to class having done the reading, and to contribute to the discussion.

Case Study: The student will write an eight to ten page paper, which will briefly apply two (or more) theories to the same global issue, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. The paper will be uploaded into Dropbox by 5pm on Monday of exam week: 25%


All books are available in paperback at the PSU bookstore.

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, preface, chapters 1-4.

Ann Hironaka, Neverending Wars

Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famine

**Note: other reading will be assigned from websites listed in the syllabus.

Late policy: late assignments or exams will be penalized (except in case of verifiable illness or family emergency) three percent a day for each day that they are late (including weekends) up to a maximum of thirty percent of the final grade.


Plagiarism is the submission of another person’s work as your own.  It is also a serious academic crime.  Any instance of plagiarism will result in an automatic O for that assignment.  You may also not submit a paper in this course that you also use in another course.

Disability: Any student who has a disability that may require some special arrangements in order to fulfill the course requirements should contact the Disability Resource Center at the start of the course to make appropriate arrangements. The DRC is located in 116 Smith Memorial Student Union, and their phone number is (503) 725-XXXX.

Topics: True academic inquiry must follow its own course. For this reason, there may be changes and additions to the schedule that follows.

Week One: Methodology and Epistemology

Why Theory Matters




The purpose of scholarship

Is objectivity possible?

Philosophical debates about the meaning of theory

Reading (Friday):

Week Two: Liberalism

Lecture: The Origins of Classical Liberalism and its Modern Legacy; Youtube videos: What is Classical Liberalism”:; Theory in Action, “Liberalism”:


Case Study: Argentina’s Collapse in 2002: a Neoliberal failure?

Week Three: Radical Theories

Classical Marxism

Cliff Bowman on financial crises and Marxism:

The Failure of Communist States

NeoMarxism and Gramsci

Week Four: Contemporary Theories/Post Theories

Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School

Postcolonialism: its roots in French Algeria, and adoption globally

Reading (Friday): Provincializing Europe, preface, chapters 1-4.

Week Five: Contemporary Theories Continued; Green Theory

Edward Said

Green Theory

Online Midterm Exam (no class Friday)

Reading (Wednesday): Garrett Hardin, “Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 1968:

Thomas Friedman, “No Drill, Baby, Drill,” NYT, 2009:

Robert J. Smith, “Resolving the Tragedy of the Commons by Creating Private Property Rights in Wildlife,” CATO Institute,

Week Six: Development

Theories of Development: brief lecture and discussion.

Democracy and Development: Ted Talk:

Ted talk: Hans Rosling, “Let my Dataset Change your Mindset”:

Reading (Friday): Amartya Sen: Poverty and Famine.

Week Seven: Feminism and Sociological Theory


Case Study: Eric Hobsbawm’s theory of Social Banditry; the Brazilian Example

Week Eight: Security

Realism and Human Security

Case Study: “the Drug War: Realism versus Human Security: The Latin American and Portuguese Examples.”

Seeing War through Quantitative methodology.

Reading (Friday): Ann Hironaka, Neverending Wars.

Week Nine: Modernity, Globalization and Ethics

State Terror: Modernization theory tested

Globalization and Scapes: the thought of Appadurai

Case Study: Indonesia and Influenza: Dependency theory, Viral Sovereignty and Biopiracy.

Week Ten: Theories of Collapse

Millenarianism: Eric Hobsbawm’s theory

The Club of Rome to Hubbert’s Peak: Joseph Tainter and Theories of Collapse

Final class: Discussion: What is the utility of theory?

Reading (Wednesday): Ugo Bardi: “Peak Civilization” and the Collapse of the Roman Empire:

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University


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  1. Pingback: The Strange Life and Death of Walter Benjamin | Intro to Global Studies

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