Students are required to write two essays over the course of the term totaling 3000 words (i.e. roughly twelve pages). Both assignments appear below; and students are encouraged to begin considering these essays the moment they begin the course. Throughout the term, they ought to examine the bearing of each week’s readings on these essay questions.
Students will happily find that two essay assignments are designed to build on one another. The first essay prompts students to analyze one of the major theoretical approaches taken to the study of international political economy. The second requires students to evaluate the applicability of this (or another) approach to one of the cases studied in this course.
No outside research should be required to earn top marks on these essays. Students who wish to conduct ancillary research must consult with me before they do so. Students are reminded to follow the specifications of the assignments closely.
The essay due dates fall a considerable time after the relevant material is covered. These dates were chosen: (1) to correspond with units where the reading is relatively lighter and/or easier; and (2) to provide plenty of opportunity to reflect on the material and compose the essay. Students are advised to begin work well in advance of these deadlines, particularly since the course tardiness policies will be strictly enforced.
Essay 1: Critically Analyze an Argument
Each of the readings in Unit 1 (Classes 1-6) attempts to offer a theory to explain empirical outcomes. Select one of the readings from Topic 2, and critically analyze this work in no more than 1500 words.(Classes 1-6). (Do not, however, select the Goldstein & Keohane reading since we will analyze this perspective together. If you choose Hobbes or Bull, feel free to consider the other as well. Lastly, if you choose to analyze the Melian Dialogue, you need only analyze the position of either the Melians or the Athenians.)
A critical analysis is not a summary. Whereas a summary presents material, a critical analysis casts judgment on the material presented. A critical analysis can thus be positive (defending the material from potential attacks), negative, or mixed. The best critical analyses defend their conclusions and respond to potential counterarguments.
A critical analysis could take any of several approaches. (a) It might assess the work in purely theoretical terms. Is the argument internally consistent? Are the assumptions on which it is founded reasonable? Does it make illogical leaps? Or (b) it could assess the work in empirical terms. Does the author accurately characterize the evidence he or she uses? Is the author’s evidence well-suited to the author’s argument? Does the evidence used support the author’s theory? (I prefer that you only consider the applicability of the evidence used by the author since you will test the theory with “out-of-sample” evidence in Essay 2.)
Good writing is important; but it is less important than good argumentation. While students are welcome to critique the aesthetic aspect of their authors’ writing, they are strongly encouraged to focus primarily on the readings’ substance. (For instance, it is more interesting to learn that Wendt’s assumptions are untenable or that his predictions are disconfirmed by experience than to hear that he is difficult to understand.)
Students are welcome to issue several criticisms (and of varying types, if they wish). But they are also reminded to mind the strict word limit. They would do well to tailor their analyses to the space available.
I have posted a copy of a good critical analysis that students can use as an example. Spencer Wright’s example essay is available here.
Essay 2: Test a Theory’s Explanatory Power
Essay 1 challenged you to critically analyze one of the major explanations of foreign policy. This essay will provide you with an opportunity to rigorously test the veracity of that theory (or a different theory, if you so choose).
Select one of the perspectives from Unit 1 (Classes 1-6). After you are sure you understand the theory that has been deployed, go beyond the evidence the author(s) explicitly cites and consider the theory’s applicability to some of the other empirical cases we studied in Units 2 & 3. Is the theory confirmed or disconfirmed by the case(s) you cite? Are there other theories that explain these events more readily?
Your universe of cases may be as broad or as narrow as you like. For instance, you could consider the causes of the Second World War. Or you could examine the specific decision by President Kennedy to blockade Cuba in 1962. You should define your set in whatever way you think will best help you evaluate the veracity of the theory at stake.
For some, this topic may prove challenging. If you find that is the case for you, I strongly encourage you to request help.
I have posted a copy of a good response to this assignment that students can use as an example. Andrea Jones’ example essay is available here.