International Organization (Course number POL 550, Intructor: James Raymond Vreeland, Professor 2.0)


International Organization (Course number POL 550)

Classroom location: Bendheim Hall 317
Class day & time: Wednesday, 1:30-4:20pm

This web-syllabus is designed to be used throughout the semester. Below you will find links to the readings for each of the 12 class sessions. Students visiting this page for the first time should read through the entire syllabus: the course description, the course requirements, and the course outline. If you have any questions or comments about the web page or the course, please contact me.

  • Course Description
  • Requirements
  • Sep 1: Introduction
  • Sep 8: The IMF
  • Sep 15: The World Bank
  • Sep 22: The WTO
  • Sep 29: Regional versions of the BWI's
  • Oct 6: The EU
  • Oct 13: The United Nations – General Assembly and Security Council
  • Oct 27: The United Nations – peacekeeping missions and human rights treaties
  • Nov 3: Institutional design and proliferation
  • Nov 10: International courts and the enforcement of international law
  • Nov 17: Rising Chinese institutions
  • Dec 1: Nationalism versus International Organizations

  • Course Description:

    What are International Organizations (IOs) and what role do they play in world politics? In this course we will study various IOs, considering their historical origins, ostensible functions, the international and domestic political forces that impact their operations, and their effectiveness.

    We will begin the course by addressing some overarching theoretical and methodological issues so that we have a core set of analytical tools we can apply to our study of specific IOs. From a theoretical perspective, we will consider various paradigms, such as realist, liberal, bureaucratic, and constructivist. From a methodological point of view, we will be concerned with questions of endogeneity and non-random selection. That is, separating the circumstances under which IOs take action from the inherent effects of their actions.

    Delving into specific IOs, we begin with the Bretton Woods institutions: the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. We then turn to regional versions of these institutions as well as the European Union. Next, we study the United Nations (General Assembly, Security Council, human rights, and peacekeeping operations). As we close out the semester, we turn to broader themes, such as the design of international institutions, international courts and the enforcement of international law, and the changing landscape of international organizations as emerging markets – mainly China – assert themselves as bigger players on the international stage.

    The challenges of trying to understand the interests, institutions, and information of actors in an international context are great, and much remains to be learned. The course is designed not just to familiarize students with IOs, but also to stimulate their curiosity about questions that really have yet to be answered satisfactorily. An important goal of the course is to equip students with the analytical tools required to address such questions and pursue their own publishable research.

    The course has four basic requirements: (1) participation as a paper presenter, (2) participation as a discussant, (3) ungraded short writing assignments, and (4) a paper.

    (1) Participation as a paper presenter (25%):
    I would like to run the first part of each class like an APSA panel. Each paper will be presented by one student – with slides – and a 9 minute time limit. There will be about 6 papers each week, so this should take an hour.

    Why are we going to do this? Distilling the essential parts of a paper is a skill. Many scholars don't have it. This is why many presentations are unfocused and go over time. In this course, you are going to master the short presentation. This skill will serve you well. You can expect to present many papers – almost one per week. We are going to have fun with this aspect of the course, and you're going to leave this class as an expert presenter!

    (2) Participation as a discussant (25%):
    After the presentations, we'll take a break. Then we'll do the "discussant" part of the class. Each class we will select one student to present a "discussion" of the week's papers. This part of the class will be less structured. Students will be encouraged to pose questions and make suggestions. The discussion should highlight critiques of the week's readings – and offer constructive ideas to pursue in future research projects.

    (3) Ungraded short writing assignments (10% – students are required to submit assignments each week for credit, but the content is ungraded):

    Short assignments are designed to help you build toward your final paper. The key to good writing is writing a lot – without anxiety. And the key to writing a long paper is putting together a series of components of a paper. So, the short assignments will be (1) weekly, (2) ungraded, and (3) pertain to various aspects of your eventual long paper: the question, the literature, your theory, your method, your analysis, and your results.

    The main requirement here is to submit evidence of progress on the final paper each week. Students are welcome to re-submit the same aspect of their paper multiple times with additional development. Below, I propose a series of assignments that may be useful to follow. But as a student's specific project unfolds, it may make sense to deviate from this proposed plan.

      Short writing assignments:
        1. The research question: What is your primary dependent variable of interest? (What are you explaining?) What is your primary independent variable of interest? (What do you hypothesize does the explaining?) (1-2 pages, double-spaced)

        2. Preliminary bibliography: Read 100 abstracts. Make a list of at least 20 academic articles related to your research. (But you don't have to read/study them yet.)

        3. Data: What are the, respective, means, medians, standard deviations, minimum values, and maximum values of your main dependent and independent variables? What are the sources of these data? What is the unit of observation (e.g., country-year)? How many observations do you have of each variable? (1-2 pages, double-spaced)

        4. Annotated bibliography: Go back to the (at least) 20 academic articles related to your research. Provide a summary sentence linking the main finding of the article to your specific project.

        5. Merging data: What is the correlation between your independent and dependent variables?

        6. Baseline specification: What other factors (control variables) influence your dependent variable? Multivariate regression: Just do it. (Also provide a data table with the descriptive statistics for the full set of variables for your study.)

        7. Abstract: You should have one sentence for each of the following (in this order):(1) Research question, (2) Hypothesis, (3) Methodology, (4) Result, (5) Conclusion (total: 150 words)

        8. Put it together: String the best of the above assignments together and write a first draft: (1) abstract, (2) introduction, (3) background (remember the annotated bibliography?) (4) your argument/theory (5) descriptive data, (6) multivariate results, (7) conclusion

        9. Make revisions: Revise/improve your draft.

        ***Due Date for final paper: TBD***

    Note that there are 9 assignments listed, but we have 12 weeks of class. That's because some assignments will take more than one try :-)

    All short written assignments are due electronically by 10am on Wednesday before class. Please upload them to Canvas. Assignments should be double-spaced with 12-point font and (at least) 1 inch margins.

    (4) A paper.

    The paper can be co-authored and all papers (co- or single-authored) will be held to the same standard. One approach is extending a replication of previously published research.

    Course Outline

    Sept 1: Introduction

    Sept 8: The IMF

    Sept 15: The World Bank

    Sept 22: The WTO

    Sept 29: Regional versions of the BWI's

    Oct 6: The EU

    Oct 1: The United Nations – General Assembly and Security Council

    Oct 27: The United Nations – peacekeeping missions and human rights treaties

    Nov 3: Institutional design and proliferation

    Nov 10: International courts and the enforcement of international law

    Nov 17: Rising Chinese institutions

    Dec 1: Nationalism versus International Organizations