International Relations dissertation topics can range widely within three broad research categories: foreign policy, war and security, and international political economy. When choosing a topic, graduate students must also consider theoretical and methodological questions. Overall, most IR dissertation topics remain narrowly focused on a specific question or puzzle, but incorporate larger theoretical questions that relate that topic to the field in general.
Theory and Methods
A successful IR dissertation topic utilizes mainstream research approaches. Specifically, the graduate student must justify why her chosen method, such as case studies or statistical regressions, is most appropriate to answer the question at hand. More importantly, an IR dissertation writer must demonstrate a strong understanding of how the topic relates to the “literature,” or earlier theories and findings on that topic. Developing and testing a unique theory is a standard approach in IR and should factor into the author’s topic choice.
Foreign policy dissertation topics typically focus on how and why elite decision-makers, such as the president or secretary of state, select and pursue a given course of action. Here, several approaches are possible. A dissertation might focus on the psychological, interpersonal or institutional factors that lead to certain types of foreign policy outcomes, such as decisions to escalate a rivalry. A more comparative approach would examine whether and how, for instance, developing states differ in their foreign policy processes and outcomes. Finally, a dissertation writer might study whether domestic or international factors are more important in understanding a particular foreign policy.
War and Security
War and security dissertations focus on the causes of violent conflict, the strategies for achieving and maintaining security and the ways in which politics and the shadow of organized violence interact. A research topic here might seek to explain the outbreak of a particular conflict, such as World War I, or the general conditions that make wars more likely. Alternatively, “peace studies” seek to understand either how wars end or how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. Other dissertation topics might include analyzing nuclear strategy or grand strategy -- the overall method states apply to promote their interests and deter challengers.
International Political Economy
Dissertation topics related to international political economy focus on the ways in which economic interests and structures affect relations between states. Globalization tends to dominate such questions because it is both pervasive and deeply connected to investment and trade. Internationally, these research topics can include state participation in international institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the effects of global finance. Domestically, the research might consider the ways in which the international economy affects governments, particularly democratic regimes. Similarly, a dissertation writer here might consider the ways in which the global economy is structured and whether inequality is built into that system. Finally, economic development of poor states remains a consistent research question for international political economy scholars.
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